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Family, Lawyers Blame Opposition Activist’ Death on Denial of Treatment in Prison

FILE PHOTO - A truck carrying prisoners made its way to the Supreme Court building in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, August 22, 2018. (Ty Aulissa/VOA Khmer)

Yea Thong was released in August and died on February 14 of osteoporosis, leaving behind his wife and three children.

A detained former opposition activist has died after being released from jail sparking criticism over the government’s treatment of dissidents.

Yea Thong, a motorbike dealer and active supporter of the Cambodia National Rescue Party, was detained in 2015 and sentenced to seven years in prison along with eight other CNRP activists for taking part in a protest in July 2014.

He was released in August and died on February 14 of osteoporosis, leaving behind his wife and three children. He was 45.

Om Sam An, a former CNRP lawmaker who shared a cell with Thong, said the activist had experienced severe back pain during his incarceration and had been denied medical care.

He said jailed supporters of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and wealthy inmates had received preferential treatment and had been allowed to visit the hospital if they were suffering ill health.

“In the prison, those with money can stay one or two nights at the hospital and receive quick treatment,” he said. “For us, we could not and Ya Thong was not allowed. This is injustice in prison.”

Dozens of CNRP lawmakers and supporters were jailed in the aftermath of the 2013 election when the party won a large minority of the vote despite widespread allegations of electoral fraud.

In 2017, after the CNRP ran a successful local elections campaign, the party was banned and its leader, Kem Sokha, jailed on treason charges.

Meng Sopheary, Thong’s lawyer, confirmed that the courts had denied her client’s request to seek treatment.

“In order to avoid a critical situation, we asked that he get medical attention to find the cause [of his pain]. After that, we also proposed doctors from [local rights group] Licadho to check up on him in the prison, but our proposal was denied by the court,” she said.

Pol Romdoul, Thong’s wife, said her husband was not noticeably sick when he was detained. “If they allowed him to have treatment, he wouldn’t have died because the prognosis would have been known and treated on time,” she said.

Chao Veasna, a former CNRP district official charged with “incitement” in 2017, also remains in jail suffering reported ill-health.

Prison officials this week rejected claims of mistreatment.

Nuth Veasna, deputy director of the Prisons Department, claimed no request had ever been made for Thong to visit the hospital.

“We never received any proposal for him to receive medical attention,” he said.

Am Sam Ath, an investigator with Licadho, said if a request made for medical attention to the authorities is denied or ignored it is “a serious violation of their rights”.

“Even if they are convicted or detained, their rights to receive medical treatment must not be denied.”