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Prisons urged to teach the law

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Prisoners under guard in the courtyard of Prey Sar prison in 2009. A prominent activist has called for more education programmes in Cambodia’s prisons. Heng Chivoan

Prisons urged to teach the law

A prominent former Boeung Kak activist has called on Cambodia’s prisons to do more to educate inmates on the law, while a senior prison official said legal training is already offered in detention centres.

Nget Khun, 79, spent five months in Prey Sar prison for her role in blocking off a major road in Phnom Penh during a 2014 land protest.

She said during her imprisonment. she never received any explanation about legal procedures and had a poor understanding of defending herself in court.

“I wish to ask the prisons to help educate prisoners about the law so that they have some legal knowledge."

“While I was in the prison, they never taught us. I only saw the banners that said prisoners are prohibited from causing violence and that prison officials must not abuse prisoners,” Khun said on Thursday.

But the General Department of Prisons spokesman Sorn Keo told The Post that legal education is introduced regularly, including on internal prison regulations and legal education programmes.

“We find it hard to assess how much they understand because of the prisoners’ [educational] abilities and the level of their punishments,” Sorn said.

He said not only have prison officials made legal education available, but several non-governmental organisations also work with prisoners on the law and human rights.

“In fact, the Bridge to Justice Organisation introduced law classes and offered lawyers to prisoners. This means all prisoners have enjoyed their rights and equal treatment before the law,” he said.

A representative of a rights group Am Sam An said in his experience, most prisoners have little knowledge about legal procedures, and that most have already been sentenced.

“This does not mean that the General Department of Prison or the government hasn’t paid attention to this issue, but reform is slow because prisons are very small and crowded,” he said.

He added that the prisoners themselves often present challenges to education.

“We admit that all prisons have a library, but not all the prisoners can read. This does not mean that no one is explaining the law to the prisoners inside the prison, but it is tough for them to understand."

“If the prisoner has a lawyer, then the lawyer is the one explaining the law during the trial and on other legal issues. If the case is a misdemeanour, the prisoner has no lawyer and doesn’t have a chance to learn the law. he said.

Veteran lawyer Yong Phanit said a prisoner’s lawyer generally explains the law to him, and this way he (the prisoner) can get some basic legal understanding.

“It is difficult. Some prisoners research and study the law before they are jailed, but some have no knowledge at all,” Phanit said.

He suggested that prisons should set up a law programme for suspects and convicts so they can understand the law.

“This should be good for even after they leave the prison, so they can live a new life within the confines of the law. If they understand the laws and keep violating them, they will have known better,” he said.

He said the prison could invite lawyers to introduce the law to detainees once a week.

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