18 Prey Sar Prisoners Found With Covid-19, Transfers to Court on Hold

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Prisons director Chhem Savuth gestures during a visit to Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Prison on November 23, 2020. (Directorate General of Prisons)
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Prisoners at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Correctional Center I will not be taken to court for hearings for the time being after 18 inmates tested positive for Covid-19 this week.

Interior Ministry prisons department spokesperson Nuth Savna said the source of the outbreak had yet to be found, and officers were working to test and move detainees out of the building where the patients had been incarcerated.

“We are worried, and because the disease is spreading so fast, we are [finding it] difficult to identify the source. It is worrying,” Savna said.

The concern was that new positive cases would not show up on the first tests, and would only be found after several days when second tests were taken, he said.

“The new measure is that those who go to get treatment at an outside clinic, we do not put them back in their original room. We put them in quarantine, and put them in quarantine not just for 14 days but 20 days, because this newly formed virus takes too long before showing symptoms,” Savna said.

Rong Vichea, the nephew of jailed unionist Rong Chhun, said he was concerned for the health of his uncle and other prisoners. Chhun was arrested in July over claims that Cambodia was ceding land to Vietnam.

“If there is an infection, it reflects the situation there that it is not safe, not hygienic, and all the detainees have not received attention,” Vichea said.

Pat Raksmey, the wife of Mother Nature environmental activist Thun Ratha, said she had not been allowed to visit her husband in prison since the nation’s ongoing Covid-19 outbreak began to surge in late February.

She said Ratha should not even be in prison.

“I would like to request that the government as well as the court drop the charges because my husband is not at fault, because all youth who love the environment, love the nation, are not guilty. They should be released so that they can reunite with family,” Raksmey said.

In two letters from Correctional Center I dated May 20, the prison asks the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and Appeal Court to suspend the transport of detainees for hearings for some time due to the 18 positive Covid-19 cases.

Health Ministry spokesperson Or Vandine said she had not yet received information about the situation from the director of the Phnom Penh municipal health department. Ngy Mean Heng, the department’s director, said he was busy and referred questions to the ministry.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Suos Vithyearandy could not be reached for comment.

Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager at human rights group Licadho, said the country’s notoriously overcrowded prisons were a major risk for Covid-19 transmission.

“So, we, civil society, are concerned and still insist to the court [to consider] pretrial detention and should consider any offenses that could be granted bail, speed up the proceedings, or the government should look into prisoners who are close to the end of their sentences to be allowed out on bail or released. This can also reduce infections,” Sam Ath said.

In April last year, the Justice Ministry said the government had no plans to release any prisoners on bail amid the Covid-19 pandemic — despite concerns about possible outbreaks in prisons raised by rights groups, the U.N. and prisoners’ families — due to officials’ concerns about a possible risk to public order.

Earlier this month, Preah Sihanouk provincial authorities reported 34 prisoners in the provincial prison had tested positive. More than 140 female detainees in Preah Sihanouk were moved to the Kampot Provincial Prison to create more space. Cambodia has about 40,000 prisoners across the country.

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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