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Justice ministry reviews conditions for early prisoner release

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Inmates were transported back from the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to the prison while their relatives saw them off. Heng Chivoan

Justice ministry reviews conditions for early prisoner release

The Ministry of Justice is planning a draft announcement concerning conditions that prisoners released on bail must follow. The ministry’s initiative aims to reduce overcrowding and prevent the spread of Covid-19 in correctional facilities.

The plan came after ministry secretary of state Kim Santepheap held a meeting on June 10 to review the announcement for monitoring and integrating prisoners back into society.

Santepheap told The Post on June 13 that the draft was drawn up in accordance with the Criminal Code. Prisoners with good behaviour will be eligible for release on bail.

“In order to implement the spirit of this code, the ministry is required to prepare an announcement on monitoring and integrating inmates into the community. We release them on bail. So, this draft is under review and not yet final,” he said.

However, he said the announcement would be issued soon as a commission for releasing prisoners would also be set up.

He added that the draft focused on time served and behaviour. The deciding factor for these two issues and some other practical problems would be taken into consideration in making a decision whether to release a prisoner. The nature of the case is taken into account and even serious offences would be considered.

“The draft means a prisoner who is released on bail can re-enter society, but it is subject to certain conditions. Failing to fulfil these obligations means the prisoner will return to jail to complete the sentence,” he said.

Santepheap explained that the draft was different to a pardon or a sentence reduction. Cambodia has always granted these clemencies five times a year during national holidays.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director for rights group Licadho, said the initiative might help reduce prison overcrowding and prevent the spread of Covid-19.

“This draft could facilitate the release of some prisoners on bail and we want it to be implemented soon no matter what the conditions are, but with transparency,” he said.

“Through this mechanism, we allow them to return to their families and help them earn a living. What is more important is to control risks relating to Covid-19. If prisoner numbers are reduced, it is easy to control,” he said.

However, he requested that officials implement the announcement in a transparent and fair manner, especially giving priority to vulnerable inmates.

“As a civil organisation, we are deeply concerned about the Covid-19 pandemic because prisons are crowded. Civil society organisations working on human rights have been providing input relating to the release of prisoners on bail,” he said.

Sam Ath suggested that prisoners in pre-trial detention, prisoners who are near the end of their sentences, and prisoners with health issues be released.

The draft comprises of five articles which detail the conditions of a prisoner’s release on bail. They include having a permanent address, receiving vocational training, fulfilling obligations to society, not associating themselves with certain individuals such as accomplice, instigator or the victim of crime, and not be in possession of a weapon.

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