Prisoners 'Buy' Early Release

Not all Cambodians freed in a royal pardon may have been eligible for release.

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Prisoners being taken to former King Norodom Sihanouk’s cremation site in Phnom Penh, Feb. 4, 2013.

A Cambodian rights group has urged Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government to investigate charges that prisoners paid bribes to be placed on a list for release under a royal pardon, sources said on Wednesday.

The pardon, which applied to 405 prisoners who had already served two-thirds of their sentences,  was announced this week by Cambodia’s King Sihamoni on the occasion of the funeral of his father, the former King Sihanouk.

But some prisoners held in Kampot province who were eligible for release are still in custody, while others paid bribes to prison officials to have their own names placed on release lists instead, Yun Phally, Kampot provincial investigator for the rights group Licadho, told RFA’s Khmer service.

“They gave U.S. $100 to the prison guards to be put on the lists,” he said, adding that one of the prisoners who paid the bribe had been sentenced on drug-related charges.

To reconcile the numbers of prisoners considered eligible for release, guards then failed in some cases to list the names of prisoners who had served the required two-thirds of their terms, Yun Phally said.

Charges denied

Kampot province deputy director for prisons Em Bo however rejected accusations that prison officials had taken money to free prisoners who were ineligible for release.

“We didn’t take any bribes. Who would dare to do that?” he said, adding that all 17 of the prisoners released in Kampot province had served the required two-thirds of their sentences.

But one woman who was freed because she had only five days of her sentence left to serve said that a friend had paid U.S. $100 to be released under the terms of the royal pardon.

“I didn’t give any money to the guards, but my friend did,” she said.

On Tuesday, prisoners at the Prey Sar prison in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh said that some of the inmates held there who had served two-thirds of their sentences were not freed in the pardon.

“I already served eight months of my term, and some have served 10 years, but none of us were released,” one man said.

Rights groups and international observers have long pointed to what they call Cambodia’s “culture of impunity” in accounting for corruption and violations of human rights, with Berlin-based corruption watchdog Transparency International ranking Cambodia 164th worst out of 182 countries surveyed in its 2011 Corruption Perception Index.

Reported by Ouk Savborey. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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