A prominent local rights group has been forced to abandon its annual International Human Rights Day (IHRD) events in Cambodia’s prisons for the first time in 20 years because of “prohibitive” conditions imposed by the government, it said yesterday.
In a statement, Licadho said it had called off activities – including entertainment, human rights speeches and the distribution of food packages – that had been planned for 18 of the country’s prisons to mark the occasion on Thursday.
“This year, restrictions imposed by the GDP [General Department of Prisons] have rendered Licadho’s special IHRD prison activities meaningless, marginalising prisoners even more by precluding them from celebrating this important event which is meant for all Cambodians,” the statement says.
It is the first time that Licadho’s IHRD prison activities have been cancelled in 20 years.
In March, the rights group cancelled similar activities planned to mark International Women’s Day because of government restrictions.
Under the latest conditions, “there are no guarantees that prisoners would get the additional out-of-cell time that is so valued”, the statement says. “Moreover, prohibition on directly delivering care packages prevents Licadho from ensuring that prisoners actually receive the full care packages.”
According to the group, no reasons were given for the “needless” restrictions, which director Naly Pilorge said “typify the sad state of affairs in Cambodia at the moment”.
“A 20-year tradition of providing an opportunity for prisoners to celebrate IHRD, many of whom are still awaiting trial, is being blocked, and for what?”
Sok Sambath, deputy director of the Interior Ministry’s GDP, dismissed the statement, arguing that officials had just asked for Licadho’s “cooperation”.
In the past, “Licadho has not reported specific activities and the way [such activities] have helped prisoners has not been broad. It has been a kind of discrimination,” she claimed, explaining that only a few prisoners benefited from such events.
“We just want Licadho to sign an agreement with us and report their work and activities to us, but they did not agree.”
But Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator for Licadho, said yesterday that restrictions, including not being allowed to speak to inmates, had rendered the event meaningless.
“I think it’s because of current political tensions that have seen political activists and human rights activists jailed; that’s why we’re not allowed to meet the prisoners.”
A separate IHRD event – a planned march by thousands of civil society group members, unionists, monks and activists – could also be derailed by the government.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said municipal officials had ruled that the event would attract “too many people, and the march will cause traffic problems”, but had forwarded the request on to the Interior Ministry for a final decision.