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Prisoners tell of lengthy trial delays

Prisoners tell of lengthy trial delays

T he plight of women prisoners, many of whom wait years

for their trials, was highlighted by visits by human rights groups and monks as

part of the celebrations this week.

Perhaps one of the saddest sights for

the delegation, and the journalists who went with them, was a two-year-old girl

who was born in T-3 jail and has never seen life outside.

Inside the

other jail visited called PJ, one frail looking 30-year-old prisoner said: "Our

biggest problem here is that we have not even been tried in court

yet."

She has been accused of defaulting on a $100 loan payment and has

been in the detention center for the past six months without trial, though

legally she cannot be so detained for more than 48 hours.

She is typical

of women at the two prisons. Six of the ten women prisoners at T-3 still await

trial, and most have little awareness about what legal redress they can

demand.

When the delegation led by the Venerable Maha Ghosananda and the

Minister for Secretariat of Women's Affairs Keat Sukun stepped into the dingy,

low-roofed women's prison in the PJ compound, the 18 prisoners inside broke down

and cried.

They bowed and prayed with the monks and spoke of their

problems to the other visitors, the first they had had who were not from their

family.

Overcrowding, insufficient food and disease are common

complaints, but Kek Galabru, president of the human rights NGO LICADHO says

women prisoners are generally held in better conditions than men.

"They

are fewer in number, so their rooms are less dirty and crowded, and often they

get more food from the wardens," she says.

Even so, the 18 prisoners in

PJ share a single small room and bath.

"They are given about 200 grams

of rice everyday with soup or vegetables," says Dr Kau Sacha, a doctor with

LICADHO who visits both PJ and T-3 twice a week.

Many have

gastro-enteritis because of untreated water.

Most women prisoners have no

idea when or whether they will be tried.

One forty-year-old woman in T-3

finally had her trial last week after waiting for six years. She was found

guilty of killing her daughter but due to the length of time she has already

served, she will be released within days. The woman protested her innocence to

the delegation, claiming her daughter had committed suicide.

Her's is an

extreme case, most have waited for months before a trial for alleged bribery,

theft or murder.

One 17-year-old in PJ prison is accused of trafficking

in girls for prostitution. Another woman allegedly borrowed a motorcycle she did

not return.

The living conditions at T-3 for women are actually better

than at PJ. Of the ten, five share one large room and four share another, while

one woman described by Dr Kau Sacha as 'depressive' stays alone. She has been

waiting two years and four months for a trial.

T-3 was supplied with food

by UNTAC for a few months, and Galabru says that LICADHO has been offered food

aid from the World Food Program (WFP). It will begin to distribute food in

prisons as soon as adequate storage space is found.

The other major

problem is medicine, for which women usually depend on LICADHO doctors.

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