With Khmer New Year and Visak Bochea just around the corner, the Ministry of Justice is reviewing a list of 668 inmates who have pleaded for royal pardons or reduced sentences.

In an April 4 social media post, justice minister Koeut Rith announced that 345 of them sought clemency during Khmer New Year while 323 asked for the same consideration during Visak Bochea.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group LICADHO, said on April 6 that the number of inmates who made the request seemed small. According to legal standards, inmates who asked for reduced sentences must have served one-third of their prison term, while those seeking pardons should have served two-thirds.

“If more pardons were granted, it would reduce prison overcrowding. The number of applicants appears small. If people are granted clemency, it will only be near the end of their sentence anyway,” he said.

“According to the law, royal pardons or reduced sentences should be granted without discrimination. They cannot be based on political affiliations or rich or poor family circumstances. More importantly, inmates who have reformed or improved their behaviour and followed the prison rules should be included on the lists,” he added.

General Department of Prisons (GDP) spokesman Nouth Savna said on April 6 that the GDP was working with municipal and provincial court prosecutors, police chiefs and the national committee tasked with reviewing all requests for pardons and sentence reductions. He noted that the Kingdom’s prison population currently stands at nearly 40,000.

“The prison population has recently increased, but we hope to reduce overcrowding through affording clemency to as many as possible,” he said.

To reduce overcrowding, he said inmates were often transferred between prisons and correction centres to manage the available space.

“Until they are convicted by the courts, we transfer them to less crowded facilities wherever possible,” he added.

The justice ministry is also in discussions with the Thai and Lao embassies to arrange the transfer of their citizens back to their respective countries.

“The ambassadors of Thailand and Laos have requested that the Cambodia extradite the prisoners to serve out the rest of their sentences in their homelands,” justice ministry spokesman Kim Santepheap told The Post in February.

Santepheap added that the ministry was preparing appropriate mechanisms to return the inmates, but said the transfers would not be mandatory.

“If the inmates refuse to go back, we will not send them. We are currently inspecting the individual circumstances of Thai and Lao inmates,” he noted.