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Holiday prisoner pardons to be considered

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A prison van transports inmates in Phnom Penh. Minister of Justice Ang Vong Vathana is set to call a meeting on Monday to review requests to pardon 252 prisoners to mark this year’s Visak Bochea festival. Hong Menea

Holiday prisoner pardons to be considered

Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana will call a meeting on Monday to review requests for pardons from 252 prisoners, 16 of whom are females, for Visak Bochea Day which this year falls on May 18, the ministry said on its Facebook page on Saturday.

The requests, it said, came from 22 municipal and provincial prisons, as well as three correctional centres.

Ministry of Justice spokesperson Chin Malin told The Post that there were traditionally three times a year when pardons and sentence reductions could be requested – Khmer New Year, Water Festival and Visak Bochea Day (Buddha Day).

However, at the request of Prime Minister Hun Sen last year, they can now be also sought on Win-Win Policy Day on December 30.

Regarding the requests made by the committees of municipal and provincial prisons, as well as correctional centres, Malin said: “We will review the requests first before sending them to the government [at the national level] and to the King.”

Malin said that to be able to request clemency, a convict must have served one-third of their term for sentence reductions, and two-thirds for pardons.

However, he noted that a prisoner’s behaviour also played a role in the decision-making process.

The assessment of one’s behaviour, Malin continued, is conducted by a working group at the respective prison or detention centre.

The provincial committee, he said, will select those who behave well for the national committee to review on the prisoner list.

The Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons, the Council of Ministers and relevant prosecutors will participate in the case review meeting.

Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator in rights group Licadho, said fewer inmates requested for clemency this year compared to the same period in the previous years.

He worried that the little time between the request assessments and the day of pardon could lead to the procedures to be implemented “too quickly”.

“We want to see the pardon and sentence reduction process carried out in a transparent and unbiased manner, without discrimination and irregularities.”

Sam Ath suggested that the preparations (including receiving and reviewing the requests) were made “too close to the deadline”, partly because the country had celebrated Khmer New Year less than a month ago.

To mark this year’s Khmer New Year, some 460 prisoners, including 49 females, were considered for pardons or sentence reductions.

Prisoner pardons also offer a chance to reduce crowding in the Kingdom’s increasingly strained penal system that Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng in November last year attributed to slow judicial procedures and an ongoing crackdown on drugs.

As of November last year, the 28 prisons across Cambodia housed more than 30,000 inmates, while Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar currently held 7,000 prisoners despite being designed to hold only 2,000. In addition, there were 20,000 inmates in Cambodian prisons waiting to go through judicial procedures.

In response to the problem, Sar Kheng ordered a speeding-up of judicial procedures.

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