Authorities Deflect on ‘Hundreds’ of Alleged Prison Covid-19 Cases

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The gate to Phnom Penh’s Correctional Center 2 (CC2) prison (Licadho)
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The Interior Ministry prisons department, Preah Sihanouk provincial administration and Phnom Penh City Hall this week would not offer clarification on a human rights group’s claim that there are “hundreds” of Covid-19 cases in the country’s prisons.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said in a statement on Monday it “understood” that positive cases at Phnom Penh’s PJ prison now numbered “in the hundreds” following the emergence of cases there on May 18.

At the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Prison, meanwhile, “hundreds of additional prisoners in the overcrowded facility have tested positive” since the province announced 34 cases inside on May 8, “though the government has not disclosed the total number,” the statement said.

Interior Ministry prisons department spokesperson Nuth Savna said Human Rights Watch had found the PJ prison cases “by themselves.”

“If there is, City Hall will report [it],” Savna said.

City Hall spokesperson Met Measpheakdey did not respond to questions on Monday and Tuesday.

Preah Sihanouk provincial administration spokesperson Kheang Phearum referred questions about Human Rights Watch’s claims back to the Interior Ministry prisons department.

Health Ministry spokesperson Hok Kim Cheng could not be reached on Tuesday.

Lists of Covid-19 cases issued daily by the Phnom Penh and Preah Sihanouk administrations over the past week have not specified whether any patients are inmates.

Meanwhile in Kandal province, deputy governor Nouv Peng Chandara said some prison guards and officials were suspected to have tested positive for Covid-19 this week, though the extent of the outbreak was not yet known.

“We are working on it now. We do not know yet because we are taking samples. The result will be posted,” Peng Chandara said. “We need to wait for the official results. We have found that people have tested positive with Covid-19. … It involves prison officials and not only guards.”

On May 20, Yin Kun, the director of Prey Sar, another Phnom Penh prison, sent letters to the capital’s courts to temporarily suspend detainees’ court hearings after 18 were found with Covid-19.

Savna said the Prey Sar outbreak was under control.

“We are now in control of the situation and there does not seem to be much risk,” the prisons department spokesperson said. “We’ve decided to take samples from others who are directly and indirectly involved.”

“We’ve locked down the prison at the moment and are following health measures,” he said.

The Human Rights Watch and Amnesty statement on Monday also called for reducing the pressure on overcrowded prisons by granting bail to pretrial detainees.

Additional reporting by Mech Dara

Correction: An earlier version of this article did not name Amnesty International.

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