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14 convicted former CNRP members transferred to distant prison

A police officer stands in front of the Correctional Center Number 3, also known Trapaing Thlong prison, Picture taken September 6, 2017. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
A police officer stands in front of the Correctional Center Number 3, also known Trapaing Thlong prison, Picture taken September 6, 2017. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Fourteen imprisoned members of the outlawed opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party were transferred from Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison to Trapaing Thlong prison in southern Tboung Khmum province on August 21, with three saying they had experienced violence in their new prison — a charge officials deny.

The 14 transferred are among a group of 21 party activists and members who in March 2022 were found guilty in person and in absentia on incitement and plotting charges related to former CNRP president Sam Rainsy’s attempted unsuccessful 2019 return to Cambodia. The convictions are widely believed to be politically motivated.

Correctional Center 3, also known as Trapaing Thlong prison, is located in Tboung Khmum province near the Cambodia-Vietnam border. Those who have been moved to CC3 told family members that the prison is very restricted, which has impacted their mental health.

According to their families, Keo Thai, Nhem Van, and Chum Chan were beaten and injured inside the compound last week.

Nhem Van’s wife, Pov Saran, 59, who travelled from Svay Rieng province to visit her husband on Monday, expressed sadness after seeing her husband injured in prison.

“He said that they [prison guards] were abusive,” she said. “He was bruised on his eyebrow and left cheek and has pains in his body,”

Ms. Saran said that she was allowed to meet her husband for only 5 minutes. She requested the authorities to move her husband back to detention at Prey Sar prison.

“The Cambodian National Rescue Party was already dissolved, why have they still mistreated him?” she said.

Keo Thai’s wife, Sam Chenda, 59, said her husband too appeared injured and said he had been beaten.

“They should not mistreat like this because he was arrested innocent, and he was moved from Prey Sar prison to Trapaing Thlong, and he was beaten. It isn’t reasonable,” she said.

“I don’t understand why they have sent him so far, it is seriously mistreating because they stopped activity since the dissolution of the CNRP,” Ms. Chenda said. “I asked the authorities to find out who used violence.”

However, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak, denied the claim that prison guards assaulted the inmates.

“There is no violence, they have just said [that]. If someone used violence [the prisoner] will have a scar, one-handed slap scars too,” he said.

“Who has beaten them? Where was the scar?” Mr. Sopheak asked.

He said that it is common to transfer prisoners from Prey Sar prison in order to avoid overcrowding. Cambodia’s prisons have over 38,000 inmates in total, and more than 3000 are in Prey Sar prison alone, which suffers from severe overcrowding.

“The reason for transferring is due to overcrowding that we have transferred to a bigger place,” he said.

Chhem Savuth, general director of that General Prison Department and his spokesman Nouth Savna, could not be reached for comment. Phin Yan, director of CC3, declined to comment.

Theng Savoeun, president of Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community, was arrested in 2014 on charges related to protests to demand a higher minimum wage. He was held for a month at Prey Sar before being transferred for four months to Trapaing Thlong prison, which he said was a much tougher environment.

“At Trapaing Thlong prison its environmental is very restricted,” he said,  

“At Prey Sar prison if we have money, we can buy food and goods in the prison compound but at Trapaing Thong, they are not allowed to hold money,” Mr. Savoeun said.

He said that sanitation and food are worse than at Prey Sar prison and that guards give inmates very little time out of their cells.

“We have a very short time to get out, which has affected the environment of living and health and has impacted our emotions,” Mr. Savoeun said. 

Families of imprisoned former CNRP members protest in front of the French Embassy in Phnom Phnom to call for the release of their husbands , Picture taken February 4, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Am Sam Ath, operations director at rights group Licadho, said that the transfer was intended to isolate the prisoners from their support networks.

“It is very far and isolated and families will find it difficult to visit,” he said.

“If they have family members who are poor, they can’t go to visit due to the expense and time,” Mr. Sam Ath said. He added that most of those detained at Trapaing Thlong prison have been convicted of serious crimes.

He has also called for relevant authorities to investigate the reports of violence against the three prisoners.

Seng Chanthorn, the wife of former Kampong Thom provincial council member Sun Thon, said that her husband was also transferred among 14 defendants. Though he wasn’t beaten, she said she was upset about the transfer.

“I think that they do not want us to visit them easily,” said Ms. Chanthorn, who visited her husband Saturday. “Secondly, they want to break up our spirit by protesting outside,” she added, referring to her activity with the political protesters known as Friday Women.

Meas Nee, a social and political analyst, said the government should do more to assuage public trust.

“The prison directors should investigate transparently what they have accused of using violence or torturing prisoners, whether is it true or not,” Mr. Nee said.

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