Cambodian prison authorities have subjected jailed opposition lawmaker Um Sam An to round-the-clock surveillance and placed restrictions on the visitors he is allowed to see, said a parliamentary deputy who visited him on Tuesday.
Son Chhay, a lawmaker from the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) who led an official delegation of 10 politicians to the country’s notorious Prey Sar prison in the capital Phnom Penh to visit Um Sam An, said authorities have denied him basic rights to which prisoners are entitled.
“We listened to all his difficulties inside Prey Sar prison,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service. “We will try to do whatever we can to make sure that he will be treated just like a regular prisoner. He is being persecuted.”
A guard is stationed outside Um Sam An’s cell 24 hours a day and follows him whenever he leaves it to take a break, Son Chhay said.
Although the official CNRP delegation was allowed to visit him, Um Sam An cannot receive family members or others who come to see him, he said.
Nuth Savna, spokesman for the Interior Ministry’s General Department of Prisons, denied that Un Sam An’s rights as a prisoner are being restricted and said authorities are providing extra security for him.
“He is a lawmaker, so we must protect him to prevent any incidents,” he told RFA. “Otherwise, they [the CNRP] will blame the government for injuring the lawmaker. In general, we have good intentions for him.”
Prey Sar, the country’s largest prison with about 4,000 inmates, is renowned for crowded and deplorable conditions.
Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator with the domestic rights group Licadho, said prison authorities should not restrict the lawmaker’s freedom. He said that the lawmaker’s arrest was not justified, and he still has parliamentary immunity from being charged and prosecuted.
On April 12, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court officially charged Um Sam An with two criminal offenses over his accusations that the government had conceded land to Vietnam along its border. The court placed him in pretrial lockup for incitement to commit a felony and incitement to cause discrimination.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, who critics say routinely uses such tactics against the political opposition, has said that Um Sam An’s arrest was lawful and justifiable.
Um Sam An faces up to five years in prison under the two incitement charges, the first of which carries a penalty of six months to two years in jail plus a fine. The second charge is punishable by one to three years in jail and a fine of 2 million-6 million riel (U.S. $500-U.S. $1,500), according to his lawyer Chhoung Chou Ngy.
Also on Tuesday, the Interior Ministry denied a request by CNRP vice president Kem Sokha to visit party media director Meach Sovannara who is serving a 20-year sentence for participating in and directing an insurrectionary movement.
He was arrested along with other CNRP activists after a demonstration in July 2014 that resulted in violent clashes between protesters and security forces in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park.
Ministry officials said they turned down Kem Sokha’s request in order to prevent political tension.
Reported by Morm Moniroth for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.