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Phnom Penh's prisons refitted with foreign aid

Phnom Penh's prisons refitted with foreign aid

P HNOM PENH'S Police Judiciary (PJ) prison, which once held 200 inmates in a space designed for 50, is being emptied in preparation for the final stages of an Australian-funded overhaul.

Eight inmates - four men and four women - are the prison's only occupants after dozens of others were transferred.

The eight are expected to follow soon, allowing much-needed maintenance work to be carried out before new prisoners are sent there.

The work is being funded by the Australian Embassy, which is also helping to improve conditions at the city's T3 prison and Prey Sar prison in Kandal Province.

Embassy media officer Alastair Gaisford said extensive renovation work at PJ included repairing sewage and water tanks, painting the building and putting up a new roof.

To improve the life of inmates, mat beds were put in all the cells. Their solid steel doors were replaced with grilled ones to increase lighting and ventilation.

An exercise yard was built for inmates, who, despite prison regulations that they have five hours exercise a day, were usually locked up in their cells for 23 or 24 hours.

When the restoration work was completed, a prison muster maximum of 50 would be enforced, with only 1 inmate in each cell.

Previously up to 20 to 30 inmates were jammed in each cell, which measure 2x4 meters, prompting frequent fights between them.

Gaisford said the embassy hoped to make a real difference to the health, welfare and comfort of inmates in the antiquated prison.

Australian Justice Michael Kirby (pictured above), the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia, visited PJ on November 18 and said conditions there had already been greatly improved since his first visit there in May.

Kirby said it was important that conditions in Cambodia's more than 20 prisons were improved, but it would not be done quickly.

"You can't change ancient institutions overnight. It takes time, it takes commitment of the Cambodian government, it takes support from the international community".

Kirby reiterated his deep concern about reports of secret prisons and said he would continue to discuss the issue with the government.

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