A group of foreign inmates in the capital’s Prey Sar prison have collected what they claim is evidence of failures in the justice system, and yesterday called on the government to investigate their findings.
A 50-question survey conducted between December 25 and January 4, and based on the “yes” or “no” responses of 29 detainees from 13 countries, shows “100 per cent non-compliance with our full individual rights”, according to prisoner Matt Harland who led the action.
“The reason that I have taken on this initiative, is that for nearly five years, I have been pushing for a fair trial,” added Harland, who was convicted in 2011 over charges of procuring child prostitution and committing indecent acts against underage girls.
Detainees, who are convicted of crimes ranging from pedophilia to drug trafficking, said their basic right to a fair trial had been ignored.
According to the survey, 86 per cent of respondents were forced to thumbprint documents they did not understand, while 70 per cent said their lawyers failed to meet them before or after trial. Other complaints ranged from a lack of translation services, to extortion at the hands of police.
Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said a lack of understanding from both defendants and lawyers was a major concern.
For instance, he said, foreigners have “the right to a translator”, and can find their own as long as it doesn’t delay the date of trial.
He added that many court-assigned lawyers were “not so qualified” and did not understand the right of the defendant to meet before speaking to the investigating judge. “I don’t know what they study; maybe they do not focus on rights of the accused . . . maybe they do not care about that.”
But Keo Mony, a judge and vice president of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said defendants were “always informed” of their rights.
In a letter to Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana, the prisoners urge him to “initiate and support an investigation into the issues raised by this survey”.
Justice Ministry officials could not be reached.