General Department of Prisons (GDP) spokesman Nouth Savna has denied recent allegations made by activists following their release.
The activists said the prisons are overcrowded, lack clean water, lack basic medicines or access to health care and are run by corrupt officials who they alleged made death threats towards them.
Savna hit back, saying that prisons are not meant to be pleasant places. They exist to detain people and keep them from harming society but also to punish them as well to deter them from repeating their offences when released.
“They are not meant to be comfortable places with delicious food to eat like you get outside,” he said.
He said on November 16 that some recently released former detainees who are activists of various sorts had dishonest intentions in raising these issues because they are opportunistically taking advantage of the situation to score political points by making false accusations and exaggerations about prisons.
Savna said prison overcrowding was not new to Cambodia or unique and that many countries in the world with limited resources had the same problems and that Cambodia’s prison authorities have always worked hard to resolve these issues.
“As a result, overcrowding in correctional centres and prisons – especially in Phnom Penh – has gradually been reduced starting in 2020 through 2021 by the implementation of prison reform policies combined with the Ministry of Justice’s effective campaign to speed up court cases,” he added.
Savna said that by the end of this year the rehabilitation centre for juvenile offenders run by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation will be launched and it will help by taking in at least 1,400 juvenile detainees from the main prisons.
With respect to the complaints about a lack of clean water, he said Prey Sar prison’s ward for men had nearly 10,000 inmates in 2019 and by 2021 it had decreased to just over 6,000 people.
“Higher prisoner numbers mean greater demand for water but right now the situation is better than it has ever been in many years,” he said.
Regarding the alleged death threats, he said that it was a totally false accusation and that it illustrated better than anything how dishonest and cynical these so-called activists are.
“They are in prison as a punishment but they seemingly think they merit a reward as their sentence instead,” he said.
He said the management of all detainees was carried out in accordance with the Law on Prisons, the prison’s internal administrative rules and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. The prisons are inspected frequently by the Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC), the National Committee against Torture and the Ministry of Interior, he said.
“As someone who has personally inspected the conditions in our prisons and investigated detainees' individual problems, I was really surprised by this.
"Speechless, actually, and deeply saddened by these accusations because it shows that our prisons did fail them, but only by not doing more to reform these youthful offenders,” he said.
Savna said that if there are death threats coming from any prison official or employees, then the detainees need to file a complaint and cooperate with the authorities’ investigation into the matter.
Savna said the basic rights of all detainees were respected and guaranteed but reiterated that prison was not a hotel or vacation resort.
“Prisons are places of punishment where offenders serve criminal sentences and inmates are rehabilitated so that they will behave themselves when freed.
"If you don’t like prison, that’s okay – you’re not supposed to,” he said.