Cambodian activist released after 14 months in harsh prison conditions

So Metta said that inmates are underfed and stuffed into overcrowded cells by corrupt prison officials.
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Cambodian activist released after 14 months in harsh prison conditions So Metta upon her release from Prey Sar Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Nov. 8, 2021.
Citizen Journalist

Underfed inmates at Cambodia’s Prey Sar prison suffer sleepless nights in unhygienic, overcrowded cells, unless they can pay corrupt prison guards to for enough room to lie down, an activist released this week after serving a 14-month stint at the prison told RFA.

Eng Malai, 31, better known as So Metta, is a member of the Khmer Thavrak youth organization.

She and several others were arrested in Sept. 2020 for their involvement in protests over the imprisonment of union leader Rong Chhun, currently serving a two year sentence for his criticism of the government’s handling of a longstanding border dispute with neighboring Vietnam.

So Metta and nine other Rong Chhun supporters were sentenced together last month to 20 months in prison, and all set to be released early in November, with credit for time served.

Upon her release from Prey Sar, located in the capital Phnom Penh, So Metta told RFA’s Khmer Service Monday that the prisoners suffered health problems due to poor sanitation, bad food, insufficient water, and severe overcrowding.

“They served two tiny meals a day that were very low in nutrients. Poor inmates include me have no choice, but to eat it,” she said

“Some people got stomachache and diarrhea, or itching or edema after eating the food. Even so, they still get hungry again right away because the food doesn’t provide any nutrients. It is an even lower quality than dog and pig food,” she said.

Additionally the prison is a hotbed for corruption, where the prisoners with means can pay prison staff to be put in a cell with better conditions.

“Some cells were packed with 170-200 inmates. Space was sold by counting the tiles on the floor, then charging by the tile. Of course the prison officials would deny this,” So Metta said.

“There are countless injustices happening in the prison and I wrote them down in my dairy, but it was confiscated by the prison officials. But, it does not matter because I saved them all in my head,” she said.

She described several instances of mistreatment including inmates contracting COVID-19 and dying shortly after receiving vaccines.

“They got vaccines at the time when the weather was deadly hot and there was a black out and no water in the prison. You know, the majority of the prisoners are poor, they drink water from the faucets and when there is no water, they have no money to buy bottled water to drink or bathe,” she said.   

So Metta said her imprisonment was an example of the government trying to silence Cambodians who stand up for the rest of society.

“It’s not fair to me because they will still press charges against us. They follow us, ban us from travelling abroad or doing anything,” she said.

“I remain determined to maintain the same level of activism as long as my country is still experiencing injustice, people losing their land, and people crying for help,” she said.

Five of the other nine activists were released from Prey Sar last week.

In September, the World Justice Project, a Washington-based independent group that promotes rule of law, ranked Cambodia next to last -- ahead only of Venezuela -- in its global Rule of Law Index for 2021.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sum Sok Ry. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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