Cambodian prisoners across the country are subject to an internal power structure run by prisoners with high levels of seniority, according to human rights group Adhoc.
In series of interviews conducted with 50 ex-inmates, Adhoc found that senior prisoners preside over a campaign of fear and intimidation in which newcomers are routinely bullied through the denial of food, prolonged periods in their cells, beatings and the use of handcuffs.
“It is a violation of prison rights. It is not re-education, but torture,” said Chan Soveth, senior investigator for Adhoc. He said that the senior prisoners enjoy impunity because of close relationships they had developed with prison guards.
Additionally, many of the more than 2,000 prison guards working across the country have secured their jobs through relatives rather than experience and therefore, are poorly equipped to handle the situation.
Sun Lean, director of Prey Sar prison, denied that senior prisoners bully newcomers, as prison guard officers are assigned to monitor each cell. Ngoun Lay, director of Pursat prison, similarly denied that there were any conflicts between inmates.
“How can violence go on when NGOs are visiting prisoners every day?” said Sorn Keo, spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior’s Department of Prisons.