A human rights group has called on Cambodian authorities to allow the families of three detained opposition youth leaders to visit them in prison, saying denial of family visits during their detention since Aug. 2 was politically motivated and a violation of basic rights.
Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) youth leaders Khin Chamreun, Neang Sokhun, and San Kinheng have been held pending trial on insurrection charges for alleged involvement in a July 15 protest by party supporters pushing for the reopening of Freedom Park in the capital Phnom Penh.
“The denial of the right of family visits appears to be nothing more than political retribution to further punish these men,” Naly Pilorge, director of local rights group LICADHO, said in a statement.
“Cambodian authorities must acknowledge that family visits are not a privilege but a basic human right that must be available to all.”
The families of the three men tried to visit them in the Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh on Aug. 3 and 4, but were turned away and told that they needed permission from the court or General Department of Prisons (GDP), LICADHO said.
Following the denial, the prisoners’ lawyers sent a request for the family visits to judge Keo Mony, but received no response.
The requirement for court and GDP permission for family visits “is highly unusual and appears to have no basis in law,” LICADHO said.
Cambodia’s prison law grants prisoners the right to visits from family members or friends according to a specific schedule unless prohibited by judicial authorities, LICADHO said.
LICADHO said in the case of the three CNRP youth leaders, however, their lawyers were not aware of any such order preventing family visits.
The law specifies only that permission from the GDP be sought when families and friends want to visit a detained foreign national.
Furthermore, Cambodian prison procedures state explicitly that all prisoners have the right to receive visits from families or friends for at least one hour each week after they have received approval from the relevant prison director.
“We call on authorities to grant these men immediate access to their families and friends,” LICADHO said.
Prisoners in Cambodia are routinely and unjustly denied access to outside visitors, although this is mainly due to financial constraints as most visitors are required to pay prison authorities, LICADHO said.
The group pointed out that the prison where the three men are being held is undergoing a severe water shortage and inmates must rely on family members to provide them with clean water or money to buy it.
“These restrictions are wholly unnecessary, cruel and seemingly politically motivated,” Am Sam Ath, LICADHO’s technical coordinator, said in the statement.
“For prisoners, contact with family and friends is crucial for emotional and psychological well-being. In Cambodian prisons, visitors are often the only source of nutritious food, water, medicine and financial support.”
Last month, seven CNRP lawmakers and a party member were imprisoned for a week on nearly similar charges following their presence at the July 15 protest and denied access to their families.
The seven were freed following a political deal between CNRP leader Sam Rainsy and Prime Minister Hun Sen in which the opposition party ended its boycott of parliament over disputed July polls in return for electoral reforms.
Following the deal, the government also reopened Freedom Park, the only place that protests were allowed before it was closed to the public in January.
But rights groups are concerned that the authorities are continuing to impose restrictions on public gatherings.
Last weekend, security forces blocked a group of 30 environmentalists from participating in a bicycle ride to raise awareness about a planned hydropower dam in Koh Kong province’s Areng Valley.
The district’s deputy governor later said the group had not sought permission from the city government to hold the event.
Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, has called on deputy prime minister Sar Kheng to remind all relevant ministries and local authorities that no “permission” is required under Cambodian law to hold peaceful assemblies.
She also said the authorities must ensure that no excessive force is used by security forces against peaceful protestors.
Reported by Keo Nimol and Den Ayuthea for RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.