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Pardons Unlikely for Khmer New Year

Ros Chanveasna / Khmer Times Share:
Woman inmates and their children at Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison listening to a reading of the royal degree last year on International Women’s Day. KT/Chea Vannak

The Ministry of Justice has announced it is unlikely that any Royal pardons granting inmates amnesty or reductions in prison sentences will be given ahead of the Khmer New Year, according to a ministry spokesman yesterday.
“It won’t happen before this Khmer New Year,” spokesman Kim Santepheap said.
Spokesman for the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons Nut Savenea said his department had passed all of this year’s pardon recommendations to the General Secretariat of the National Committee in charge of forming the final list of inmates, which was put together by members of the interior and justice ministries.    
Late last year Prime Minister Hun Sen, worried that the release of certain inmates had increased the national crime rate, called on ministry officials to carefully form the list of pardoned applicants and deny pardons to any convicted of robbery or drug-related offenses.
In December, the prime minister called for an end to royal pardons for people convicted of robbery and drug trafficking as well as a more thorough review of all inmates up for pardons after a police shootout that killed two men accused of murdering a man and stealing his motorbike in Toul Kork. The two men killed by police had received Royal pardons, Prime Minister Hun Sen said.
“They were released from prison and they robbed and became involved in drug trafficking again,” said Mr. Hun Sen during a speech that month. “The Justice Minister should be careful about releasing prisoners jailed on robbery or drug charges.”     
The prime minister went on to attribute a spike in violent crime at the end of the year to the pardoning of prisoners who had not reformed.
Mr. Savenea said the number of inmates in the Kingdom’s 28 prisons, now about 19,000, would rise rather than fall if robbers or drug-abusers were released.
“If we grant them a pardon, the number of inmates will increase,” he said, echoing the premier’s worry that releasing such prisoners would only incite more criminals to act.
Am Sam Ath, the technical director for human rights NGO Licadho, did not agree with the policy of denying certain inmates the right to apply for Royal Pardons.
“It violates the prisoner’s rights who are eligible for Royal pardon or sentence reductions,” he said, adding that it did not matter what an inmate had done in the past as long as the government does an adequate job of vetting pardoned applicants. Mr. Sam Ath pointed out the government’s history of granting pardons to irregular candidates.
“Some prisoners, such as robbers or drug dealers, had not reformed yet, but their names were still on the pardon list,” he said late last year. These convicts, he said, had paid bribes to have their names added to the lists. He said that if the pardon system is reformed to prevent corruption, then dangerous criminals will not be set loose.
“[Those cases] might [have been] involved with bribes, which can sway the decision over which convicts are set free.”  
Mr. Sam Ath said he hoped the new director general of the prisons department at the Interior Ministry, Lieutenant General Chan Kem Seng, who was appointed to the position yesterday in a Royal Decree signed by King Norodom Sihamoni, would adhere to prisoners’ rights.
“I hope the new director will cooperate with NGOs, who are in charge of monitoring the prisons’ affairs, to allow visitation and provide medical assistance for both prisoners and prison guard officers.”
Lt. Gen. Kem Seng will replace acting director general Kuy Bun Sorn, who Mr. Sam Ath said had a history of denying NGOs visitation rights with inmates they represented.

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