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Pardons, as Buddha’s Birthday Approaches

Cambodia is facing an overcrowding of its jails, with an estimated 14,000 prisoners across the system in 2010, according to government statistics.

The Ministry of Interior has sent a request for the royal pardon of a handful of prisoners and reduced sentences for others, as Buddha’s birthday approaches.

Kuy Bun Sorn, director of prisons for the Ministry of Interior, said he made the request to King Norodom Sihamoni as part of an annual tradition to celebrate Buddha’s birthday, known in Cambodia as Visaka Bochea.

Under that request, 19 prisoners would be freed and another 153 would have sentences reduced, Kuy Bun Sorn said.

However, those who hope to be pardoned must have served two-thirds of their sentences already, while those who would have reductions must have served a quarter of their time, he said.

The amount of time reduced depends on the length of the sentence, from a six-month reduction for those with up to 10-year sentences to a reduction to 20 years in prison from a life sentence, he said.

Ek Cheng Hauth, a prosecutor for Phnom Penh municipal court, said only the names of those who have shown good behavior are submitted to the king.

“They’ll get amnesty or prison reductions,” he said.

However, Am Sam Ath, lead investigator for the rights group Licadho, said Tuesday that the system, where requests are personally made by prison chiefs and other officials, is flawed.

“We want more perfection than this,” he said. “The government should establish a commission that is in charge of prisoner amnesties and prison reductions. That is fair and just.”

This year’s requests, meanwhile, fell well short of those for 2010, when authorities were granted royal pardons for 182 prisoners and reduced sentences for 1,049 others.