Three current and former prisoners were tried in Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday for allegedly distributing drugs inside Prey Sar prison – in a rare instance of such a crime being prosecuted.
Chan Sopheak, 19, Chum Sokneak, 23, and Chhorn Lin, 22, stand accused of running a small methamphetamine distribution ring inside Prey Sar Correctional Centre II last year. Sopheak is currently in prison, on a six-year sentence for attempted murder, while the other two were released early this year after serving four years for robbery and remain at large.
“They were prisoners who had been convicted by the court from four to six years each with robbery and attempted murder and they were detained in prison, but they did not cease to commit crimes and were able to use drugs and distribute drugs in the prison,” Judge Keo Mony said at court.
He then lambasted the police and prison officials for releasing Lin and Sokneak, even as a new charge was pending.
Speaking at court, prison guard Ith Sam Ath said the ring was discovered last July when the men were on a routine work detail.
“While other prisoners were collecting and cleaning up garbage in the prison, they were caught using the drugs near the gate of the prison. And, when we checked their bodies, we found and confiscated a small package of methamphetamine powder in Chan Sopheak’s trouser pocket,” he told the court.
At his trial, Sopheak admitted he had carried and used the drugs, but said they belonged to Sokneak. He also denied any involvement in distributing.
“I accept that I really used the drugs and shared them in prison on that day, but they did not belong to me. They belonged Chum Sokneak,” he said.
Vice-prosecutor Kong Sam Sareth asked the court to uphold the charges. If found guilty, each man will face between two and four years in prison and a fine of four million to 10 million riel ($1,000 to $2,500).
Kuy Bunsorn, director-general of the General Department of Prisons, and Prey Sar prison director Srun Leang could not be reached for comment.
Drug use in prisons is believed to be rampant, though there is little concrete data.
In 2011, two guards at two separate prisons were found guilty of smuggling and allowing inmates to smuggle drugs into the prison.
At least half a dozen friends and family members were arrested this year alone for trying to bring prisoners meth.