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Government Discussing Prison Releases to Reduce Crowding and Prevent Virus Spread

FILE: Prisoners and their children attend a ceremony at Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, March 8, 2015. REUTERS/Samrang Pring

The Ministries of Justice and Interior are considering releasing prison inmates across Cambodia to reduce the perennial issue of overcrowding, which will also help alleviate concerns of the novel coronavirus spreading among prison populations.

According to the Interior Ministry’s Facebook page, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said he met with counterparts from the Justice Ministry to discuss prison overcrowding and the handling of cases, especially drug cases.

“A campaign to resolve the [large number of] cases and prison overcrowding is one of the most important tasks of the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Justice, along with the fight against drugs,” read the post on Facebook.

Khieu Sopheak, Interior Ministry spokesperson, said the ministries needed to discuss the possibilities of releasing detainees charged with minor drug offences, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic which could affect prisoners.

“[To see] if a court can speed up the trial or acquittal for the detainees, for example, with a pardon, release on bail, release, or get the suspend sentence, so that would reduce some space [constraints],” he said.

Khieu Sopheak did not say how many people could be released under this campaign, adding that while this was the first time the government was considering releasing drug offenders, law enforcement would continue to crackdown on drug offenses.

VOA Khmer could not reach Prison Department Director Nuth Savna on Friday and Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin refused to comment on the meeting.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director for human rights monitoring at Licadho, welcomed the decision to reduce overcrowding and release prisoners, including transparently reviewing drug cases.

“I call on them to consider whether to grant bail or release [prisoners] in a transparent and fair manner,” he said.