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Prison department says inmate suspected of baby’s death

Taing Vida / Khmer Times Share:
An Chhaya leaves Phnom Penh Court. KT/Pann Rachana

An unnamed female inmate in Prey Sar prison could soon be implicated in the death of an infant who was in prison with the baby’s mother last month.

“A working group investigated and repeatedly questioned prison officials,” Lieutenant General Nouth Savna, spokesman for the General Department of Prisons, said yesterday. “We gathered evidence and the answers from sources and we suspect a female inmate could have caused the thighbone fracture to the infant.”

Interior Minister Sar Kheng on February 19 ordered an investigation into the death after rights group Licadho stated the infant died with a sustained thighbone fracture, pneumonia and severe malnutrition while under the care of her mother who was in pre-trial detention at Prey Sar prison’s Correctional Centre 2 last year.

Lt Gen Savna said the working group will submit a report to Mr Kheng today, adding the case has been forwarded to Phnom Penh Municipal Court for legal action.

“We are not sure if the inmate caused the injury intentionally or not,” he said. “We will let the court investigate and see what sort of punishment she will receive.”

“Prison officials took good care of the baby – they were not involved in her death,” Lt Gen Savna added.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Chhim Rithy yesterday sentenced the infant’s mother to two years and eight months in prison after she was found guilty of “drug use and trafficking”, but reduced it to eight months and suspended the rest of her sentence.

Judge Rithy identified her as An Chhaya, 27, who was arrested in June for possessing a sachet of methamphetamine worth $2.50.

Licadho said the infant’s mother was eight months pregnant when she was arrested and was not provided with a lawyer, noting she was unaware of her rights to post bail.

The allegation prompted support from the Cambodian Human Rights Committee who later provided lawyers to assist the woman.

CHRC vice president Chin Malin yesterday applauded the court’s decision in suspending the woman’s sentence.

He said the case of the dead infant will be used as a case study into offering legal aid to children and pregnant women in prison.

“The committee will look into other cases as well regarding children who are in prison with their mothers,” Mr Malin said. “We will figure out possible solutions to ensure their rights are guaranteed under the law.”

Licadho earlier this month said there were 103 children and 43 pregnant women in 18 prisons it monitored – the figures reportedly doubled when compared to figures obtained in January 2017.

It said CC2 is built to hold women and children, but it currently holds 1,850 detainees despite having the capacity limit of 350 inmates.

Prime Minister Hun Sen on February 18 ordered the Ministries of Justice and Women’s Affairs to review the cases of women in pre-trial detention.

Mr Hun Sen then called for immediate action to be taken to speed up prosecutions. He even offered to rent out hotels for hearings if there were not enough courtrooms to hold trials.

Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator with Licadho, yesterday said women and children in prison should be looked after.

“It was a good move that [the working group] investigated the case and that there was a result,” Mr Sam Ath said. “I hope the court will take firm action to ensure real justice is provided to children.”

“I think all institutions should learn from this case and use it as an example for the future,” he added.

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