Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana led a meeting at the ministry yesterday to review more than 300 prisoners who have requested royal pardons to coincide with the Khmer New Year.
In addition to Mr Vong Vathana, the meeting was attended by officials from the Interior Ministry and Justice Ministry, representatives of the Council of Ministers, and Appeal Court general prosecutor Ouk Savuth.
Soch Sophannara, deputy general director of the Justice Ministry’s prosecution and penal affairs department, said before the meeting that the national committee for prisoner evaluation was reviewing 321 prisoners, including 28 women, from 20 prisons and four correctional centres.
“There are 321 prisoners, including 28 women, who requested pardons for their release or to reduce their sentences. They came from 20 prisons and four correctional centres across the country,” he said.
Mr Sophannara said that according to the law, prisoners who completed two-thirds of their sentence could request a pardon to be released while prisoners who completed one-third could request a pardon for a reduction in their sentence.
However, he noted that a prisoner’s behaviour also played a role in the decision-making process.
“If they are well behaved in prison, the provincial committee will select those prisoners for the national committee to review on the prisoner list,” said Mr Sophannara.
He added there were a small number of foreigners among the 321 prisoners. When asked if the prisoner list included any political prisoners or land activists, Mr Sophannara said the list did not note any.
“The 321 prisoners include Chinese and other nationals,” Mr Sophannara said. “Foreigners comprise about 10 percent of them.”
“The national committee will review the details of prisoners who have been good and who won’t do anything to impact society.”
Speaking to garment workers in Phnom Penh in late March, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that he would not seek pardons for convicted former opposition members and activists any longer because former opposition leader Sam Rainsy claimed he was bowing to international pressure.
According to a report by rights group Licadho, the organisation currently considers 19 people detained in prison to be political prisoners, including environmental campaigners, monks, students, activists, representatives of opposition parties, and human rights workers.
Soeng Seu Karuna, a monitor for rights group Adhoc, in September urged local jail-term reduction commissions to be transparent in their work and avoid bribery or corruption.
“Poor people, land activists, human rights activists and political activists never receive pardons,” he said.
“They should be considered for release because they have worked to serve the interests of society rather than harming anyone.”
Mr Vong Vathana said during the meeting that the results would be sent to King Norodom Sihamoni who would approve the pardons.
In October last year, 48 of 421 prisoners who requested royal pardons were released or had their sentences reduced to coincide with the Water Festival.
In late 2015, Mr Hun Sen asked an inter-ministerial committee responsible for prisoners’ sentence reductions to stop pardoning inmates with a history of robbery and drug crimes, over fears they could re-offend.