THE number of inmates in Preah Sihanouk provincial prison has increased by roughly 50 percent since January because of a crackdown on vice ordered by Prime Minister Hun Sen, stretching the facility to its capacity and necessitating the transfer of some prisoners, officials said Tuesday.
Hun Sen has issued multiple calls for officials to raid venues suspected of permitting gambling, drug use and prostitution this year.
On March 19, for instance, he told an audience at the National Institute of Education that raids should not be carried out in fits and starts, but as part of an ongoing effort to curtail such activities. “Do not just do like a heavy rain, and then finish. You must continue cracking down on these operations like drizzling rain that doesn’t stop,” the premier said.
Vun Ngoun, deputy director of Preah Sihanouk provincial prison, said Tuesday that the campaign had caused the number of prisoners at his facility to jump to 306 by the end of May, up from around 200 at the begining of this year.
“Before, the law was too loose and some judges reduced jail terms or acquitted charges when the suspects paid money,” Vun Ngoun said. “But now, the number of prisoners is jumping up. It must be more difficult to release the suspects.”
He added that the facility would have exceeded its capacity of 350 – a fairly common occurrence nationally – had 48 convicted prisoners not been sent to Banteay Meanchey province last month.
“We decided to relocate 48 convicted prisoners who had received long-term jail sentences,” he said. “I thought that transferring some prisoners could reduce some of our work, but then around 35 new prisoners just came in after another vice raid.”
Heng Hak, director general of the Interior Ministry’s Prisons Department, said the campaign against vice had swollen occupancy at prisons in select provinces throughout the country.
“The vice crackdown has increased the number of prisoners in some big provinces – like in Phnom Penh, Koh Kong, Kratie and Siem Reap – which are the main tourist and business areas,” he said.
“It’s a problem, but what we can do is to transfer prisoners from crowded prisons to less-crowded prisons. It is difficult to handle, but we do our best.”
But Naly Pilorge, Licadho’s executive director, said such transfers could potentially exacerbate the problem of overcrowding by delaying the processing of individual cases in court.
“In the past six months there have been a lot of transfers, and that causes some confusion,” she said. “There has been a lot of shuffling to deal with the overpopulation.”
Vice in Sihanoukville
Preah Sihanouk provincial police chief Tak Vantha said that the jump in arrests in his province reflected increased vigilance on the part of law enforcement, as well as high crime rates in Sihanoukville in particular.
“We can say we catch at least one suspect every two days, or an average of 17 suspects per month,” he said in reference to vice raids in Sihanoukville.
“We do not want crimes to happen so that we can arrest people for our achievements, but we want crimes to be eliminated or our people will not be living peacefully,” he added.
Tak Vantha emphasised that there is no sign that the arrests will let up.
“We have to crack down on whoever does anything against the law,” he said. “Our drizzling rain action is still continued.”