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UN Office Urges Probe in Prisoner Death

A UN representative for human rights has urged the Ministry of Interior to conduct an independent investigation into the death of a 24-year-old prisoner in Prey Sar prison last week.

“We are in contact with the department of prisons to encourage them to conduct an independent investigation to determine exactly what happened,” said Christophe Peschoux, country director of the UN Human Rights Office.

Heng Touch, who was arrested Sept. 26 on charges of chicken theft in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district, died after a week of hospitalization at Calmette.

Prison officials said he died after a suicide attempt, but family members and human rights investigators said they suspect he was abused while in detention.

Heng Touch’s skull was fractured and his body was bruised, according to family members and investigators for the human rights groups Adhoc and Licadho.

An autopsy at the hospital also indicated a fractured cranium.

“Firstly, it is the responsibility of the prison department to investigate all of the cases and clarify exactly what is the cause,” Peschoux said Tuesday. “We will follow the case, and we will try to establish the facts from our side.”

Ham Sunrith, deputy director of human rights monitoring at Licadho, said Tuesday his organization was conducting its own investigation.

Licadho has cited frequent violence in Cambodian prisons committed by guards against prisoners or violence between prisoners. In a 2007 report, Licadho said it received 29 accusations of prisoner abuse, including three from women.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but Mom Kimheng, director of Prey Sar prison, maintained that Heng Touch had attempted suicide.

An autopsy by the Ministry of Interior ruled out torture, he said.