The General Department of Prisons (GDP) is preparing to vaccinate prisoners with the AstraZeneca vaccine, marketed as Covishield, on June 7 in Preah Sihanouk province, followed by Kampong Speu and Kandal provinces.
GDP spokesman Nuth Savna said on June 6 that the Covid-19 situation within the prisons had not changed much and that active work was being done by prison officials to stop the transmission of the virus.
“I contacted the deputy head of the vaccination secretariat and asked him to examine the possibility of releasing the vaccine to prisoners facing the pandemic. On June 6, I was told that 6,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be made available for prisoners.
“We plan to administer the vaccines at more prisons, possibly in Kandal and Kampong Speu provinces. We will begin to administer the vaccine to prisoners on June 7 in Preah Sihanouk province,” he said.
Separately, Minister of Justice Koeut Rith met with UN Resident Coordinator in Cambodia Pauline Tamesis on June 3 to discuss various pressing issues.
Justice ministry spokesman Chin Malin said Koeut Rith and Tamesis exchanged views on human rights and the Covid-19 law; the results of the campaign to clear a backlog of court cases; measures to address prison overcrowding; measures to respond to the pandemic within the prisons; and other justice reform programmes relating to extrajudicial dispute mediation and human training in the judicial sector.
“Overall, the UN side seemed to understand the legal aspects and the real purpose of what the government has done so far.
[These matters] often become confused and misunderstood through comments or interpretations by civil society groups and pro-opposition groups who criticise the government using arguments that have no basis in Cambodian law,” he said.
Licadho deputy director Am Sam Ath said prison conditions are a serious problem during the pandemic because of overcrowding.
“Licadho has recommended that prisoners be released temporarily. Mild offenders should be released on bail and investigative and trial procedures sped up.
“The release of prisoners who are near the end of their prison terms should be reviewed and especially review cases involving minors, women with small children, pregnant women and the chronically ill or disabled prisoners,” he said.
Sam Ath noted that the courts had released many prisoners in Sihanouk province when the pandemic hit their prisons and now all of the prisons should consider doing the same.
In response, Malin said: “Civil society groups have often raised the subject of releasing prisoners due to overcrowding. Minister [Koeut Rith] has already explained this matter to the UN representative.
“The government is simply following its own established legal procedures. We cannot release them contrary to legal procedure at the request of civil society groups.”