A prisons official on Friday said five inmates across the country had been tested for the novel coronavirus, all results returning negative, with all prisons, housing around 38,000 prisoners, being sanitized to prevent the spread of the virus.
At an event involving the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Prisons Department Director Chan Kimseng said five detainees had fevers and coughs and were tested for the virus, but were negative for the respiratory disease, though did not detail which prisons the inmates were housed in. Also, new inmates were being quarantined before being allowed into the general cells.
“A new inmate, because he could have the virus, is detained for 14 days separately. If there is no doubt, we will send him to the main building,” Chan Kimseng said.
Additionally, he said prison visits had been suspended and inmates were only allowed to speak to friends and family on prison phones two times a week, for a maximum of 30 minutes each time.
Rights groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released statements alerting to prisons being a potential “detonator” for the virus to spread. Cambodian prisons are notoriously overcrowded, unhygienic, lack decent health facilities, and are ripe with corruption.
According to Amnesty International, government data showed that Cambodian prisons held 37,000 people despite having the capacity for only around 26,500 inmates. This overcrowding was exacerbated by the government’s “war on drugs” campaign, started in 2017, that saw prison populations explode exponentially.
“The inhumane conditions in Cambodian jails and other detention centers make it impossible for detainees and staff to take preventive steps, including physical distancing and isolation,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director.
“These conditions were never acceptable, and now they risk lighting a fuse for what could quickly become dramatic and exponential levels of community transmission of COVID-19.”
A short video released Friday on Amnesty International’s Twitter showed inmates in an unidentified Cambodian prison in a cramped cell, sleeping almost on top of each other, with some prisoners having to stand because of the lack of space.
Roman Paramonov, the ICRC’s head of mission in Cambodia, said it would be a “luxury” if inmates would have the privilege of washing their hands routinely and could practice social distancing.
“If no proper measures, like screenings, are taken, one infected person enters and it can lead to an outbreak,” he said, after handing over 20 tons of hygiene products to the prison. “So, we understand that it is a problem and it takes preventive measures to protect prisoners.”