Wives of Jailed Opposition Activists Refused Visits Amid Cambodia Coronavirus Outbreak

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Wives of Jailed Opposition Activists Refused Visits Amid Cambodia Coronavirus Outbreak Prum Chantha (L), wife of jailed CNRP activist Kak Komphear, is shown protesting for her husband's freedom in an undated photo.

Wives of detained activists with Cambodia’s banned opposition party on Friday expressed concern over the health of their husbands, who they have been forbidden from visiting amid an outbreak of the coronavirus that has led to tighter restrictions in the country.

The “Friday Wives,” as they are increasingly referred to, have held weekly demonstrations in the capital Phnom Penh demanding the freedom of their husbands—members of the Cambodia National Rescue Party who have mostly been jailed on “incitement” charges after expressing views critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s leadership.

Prumh Chantha told RFA’s Khmer Service that she hasn’t been allowed to see her husband since Nov 30. She said she is afraid he is not getting enough food and medicine, which he needs to treat some health conditions he has developed in his older age.

“We are outside of the jail, but we don’t know about their conditions and they don’t know about ours,” she said.

“I am very worried because we don’t know the COVID-19 situation inside the prison,” she said, referencing the disease caused by the coronavirus.

Cambodia’s Ministry of Health announced 10 new infections Friday, bringing to 29 the number of cases tied to an outbreak discovered last week.

Another CNRP activist wife, Sok Polyma, told RFA that she has been unable to sleep since prison guards began refusing visits.

“I am worried because he has hypertension and [probably] doesn’t have enough to eat,” she said.

“While there is an outbreak of COVID-19, the government should release political prisoners to end the story. [The prison] prevented me from meeting my husband on the pretext of COVID-19.”

The women urged prison authorities to allow them to speak with their husbands via telephone at least once or twice weekly.

Prison Department spokesman Nuth Savna said the prison has stopped all visits in order to preemptively prevent the spread of the coronavirus. He said the health of the prisoners is “fine” and that no one need worry.

“If there is any issue, we will contact their families,” he said. “Don’t worry too much. We know what we are doing.”

Ny Sokha—a worker with the Cambodian rights group ADHOC—said the prison should allow the wives to give their husbands money and food. He said that prisoners routinely lack sufficient food and could face health issues without outside support.

Spreading infections

Meanwhile, as Cambodia’s 10 new infected patients received treatment at a hospital in Phnom Penh, the country began to institute new restrictions to limit the spread of the virus. Top government officials—including the Ministers of Defense, Interior, Justice, and Economy, as well as members of the National Assembly—are being quarantined.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan declined to provide details on how many officials are under quarantine but said the measures “won’t affect government work.”

“It’s business as usual for the government, as even though those who are being quarantined can use the telephones to continue their work.”

Additionally, Minister of Health Mam Bunheng issued a statement Friday which said that anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 will be “identified.” The statement said anyone entering Cambodia will be tested and must have complete 14 days of quarantine and carry a certificate of good health before traveling to the country.

“[The ministry] will immediately identify anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 through Ministry of Health’s official communications channel in order to make it easier to trace any relevant people,” the statement said.

San Chey, director of the Cambodia-based Affiliated Network for Social Accountability, blamed the Ministry of Health for loopholes he said might have contributed to community transmission. He said the ministry had failed to test several people who exhibited fever symptoms for more than 10 days.

“[The transmission] resulted from carelessness since the start,” he said, urging anyone with symptoms to “seek medical attention.”

Hun Sen on Friday released a telephone recording blaming a relaxation in quarantine orders he said may have led to the outbreak, citing a reduction in the required period from 14 days to two for businessmen and company owners.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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