DISGRACED former Phnom Penh municipal police chief Heng Pov has accused Prey Sar prison workers of overseeing the torture and beatings of inmates.
Speaking Friday while awaiting an Appeal Court hearing during which he sought to overturn a conviction on attempted murder charges, Heng Pov said he has seen prison guards at the prison “torture” inmates.
“They even ask outsiders to beat the prisoners,” Heng Pov told a Post reporter. “I would like the Ministry of Interior as well as Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng to know about this and look into the problem.”
Heng Pov said he also has evidence demonstrating that prison guards were responsible for the 2008 death of 24-year-old Heng Touch, whose family has long believed he was beaten to death while in custody.
“Heng Touch was beaten to death,” Heng Pov said. “But [authorities] pretended to save him by sending him to hospital and accusing him of committing suicide. I have enough evidence and witnesses.”
At the time, local rights groups and UN officials urged authorities to investigate the death, but prison officials called the claims “an exaggeration” and insisted Heng Touch died while trying to commit suicide.
Despite the allegations, Heng Pov said he believes most guards at Prey Sar are well-behaved; it is only “bad officials” who commit crimes, he said.
Prison officials and government authorities on Friday rejected Heng Pov’s claims.
“What he said is his right,” said Mong Kim Heng, the director of Prey Sar prison. “But the fact is, his accusations aren’t true. Prisoners receive healthcare like any other person, even though they have lost their freedom to go into the outside world.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak defended prison officials, calling Heng Pov’s claims unacceptable.
“Heng Pov is a prisoner, so prisoners will never say something good about prison officials,” Khieu Sopheak said.
However, rights groups say they believe questions linger over Heng Touch’s death.
“The court has not issued any charges for any suspect yet. It is quiet,” said Am Sam Ath, the senior monitoring supervisor for local rights group Licadho.
“Justice has not been given in this case for the family of the victim.”
And he said that although his monitors have not witnessed in-custody torture or beatings with their own eyes, they have heard many allegations from incarcerated inmates.
“What Heng Pov and the letters we received said about torture are similar,” he said. “So the torture may exist.”
In court on Friday, Heng Pov denied any involvement in a 2005 attack that left an Electricite du Cambodge employee, Kim Daravuth, paralysed, saying he had never even met the victim.
“I did not order, facilitate or execute the plan to kill him,” Heng Pov told the court. “I never knew Kim Daravuth.”
Appeal Court Judge Chuon Sunleng said a decision on the appeal would be handed down on May 20.
Heng Pov has proved to be a controversial figure in recent years. He was widely feared while he was the police chief of Phnom Penh’s municipal police force. Following his arrest in 2006, he was eventually convicted on a slew of charges including extortion, kidnapping and murder, and sentenced to more than 90 years in prison cumulatively.
Before his arrest, Heng Pov said he was the victim of government persecution for what he said were his efforts to speak out about human rights violations and rampant corruption.
But Heng Pov appears to have had a recent change of heart, and has authored a book, released in April, that praises Prime Minister Hun Sen as a skillful leader.