Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Killers better off under new law

Killers better off under new law

Killers better off under new law

A senior Ministry of Interior official has spoken of problems caused by having

two classes of convicted murderers in Cambodia's prisons, each group serving

different sentences.

People found guilty of murder under the old State of

Cambodia (SoC) regime were sentenced to life imprisonment - while those

convicted under the current UNTAC penal law get between 10-20 year's

jail.

Tom Or, first deputy chief of the ministry's Prison Department,

said the inmates sentenced under SoC were unhappy and jealous about the

situation.

Prison guards had reported problems controlling these inmates,

who had caused trouble such as instigating escape attempts and refusing to obey

prison rules.

The issue was contributing to delays in introducing prison

initiatives such as vocational skills training for inmates, because "we can only

think about guarding them".

Tom Or said he had asked court officials to

consider whether they could reduce the life sentences handed down under SoC, but

had been told that could not be done.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court

President Oum Sarith told the Post the courts had to pass judgment on the basis

of the law that was in force at the time of sentencing.

Nothing could be

done for the inmates sentenced under SoC law "because they committed their

wrong-doings then. They didn't wait for the lighter [UNTAC] laws."

All

inmates, however, had the chance to have their prison terms reduced after they

had served two-thirds of their original sentence.

Prison officials could

seek a Royal decree reducing sentences for inmates who had served two-thirds,

and who had behaved themselves in prison.

But there is no clear

definition of what two-thirds of a life sentence was, according to Sarith's

deputy, Nup Sophon.

The King, in some cases, had sought that inmates'

life sentences be reduced to 20 years in prison, so that could be considered as

two-thirds of their sentence.

Currently, the King grants reduced

sentences for some inmates three times a year - at the Water Festival, the Pisak

Bochea (Buddha's birthday) and Khmer New Year.

Under the SoC

administration, the State Council had the power to reduce sentences or pardon

prisoners, according to Sophon. He said SoC also had the death sentence until

1989, when it was abolished.

Official figures on how many convicted

murders are in Cambodia's prisons were not available.

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