The wives of two political prisoners held in Cambodian jails are fearing for their husbands’ health after seeing them in failing health during recent visits, the women said, blaming prison authorities for failing to provide the men with adequate food.
Tek Sok Lorn, the wife of jailed opposition activist Prov Chantheun, said she was shocked at her husband’s appearance when she saw him through a glass partition at the Mort Khmung prison in Tbong Khmum province.
Her husband was thin, pale, and exhausted, and looked sadly at her through hollow eyes, Tek Sok Lorn told RFA on Wednesday.
“When I walked into the prison facility to visit him, I saw his tears,” she said.
“As his wife I am really concerned about his health, since he isn’t getting any sunlight. I am requesting the court to please render justice for us, and I’m asking the judge to be loyal to the Khmer nation and know what is right and what is wrong,” she said.
Nguon Phalla, the wife another Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) activist, Um Yet, said she had previously been able to bring him food every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and that he had been in good health during the last four months.
But now her husband has lost weight, has high blood pressure, and suffers from stomach pains possibly caused by malnutrition, she said.
“[The court] should release him,” Nguon Phalla said, adding, “He appears to have lost about 10 kilos of weight after being held for only six months, and I’m concerned that if he’s left like this he may lose even more, and that his life may be at risk.”
“I’m asking the court to release him and drop all the charges against him,” she added.
Verdicts to be announced
On June 30, the Tbong Khmum provincial court will announce verdicts in the cases of 14 political and land-rights activists. Eight of these, including six CNRP members and two land-rights activists, are now being held in the provincial prison, sources said.
Arrested between late 2020 and January 2021, they face charges of plotting, conspiracy to topple the government, and inciting social chaos for having worn T-shirts bearing political slogans and for gathering in protest last year in front of the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh.
The CNRP was banned and disbanded, and its leader Kem Sokha arrested, in late 2017 as part of a wider crackdown on civil society by longtime ruler Hun Sen, driving many party leaders into exile.
Speaking to RFA on Wednesday, Nuth Savana—spokesperson for the General Directorate of Prisons—said that inmates’ families are allowed to bring them food, medicine, and other amenities, and that prison officials always pay attention to the condition of their prisoners’ health.
The rate of new COVID-19 infections in the prisons is now declining, though one new case was recently found in the Kompong Thom provincial prison, Nuth Savana said. Physical contact between prisoners and their families is still barred, though, he added.
“During a workshop we held yesterday with the International Red Cross, we discussed the possibility of allowing video calls or phone calls between inmates and their families. These are all just options for discussion, though,” he said. “We haven’t made any decisions yet.”
'We cannot be silent'
Prum Chantha, the wife of political opposition figure Kak Komphear who remains locked up in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Prison, said that after her group—named “Friday wives” for their weekly protests—appealed for help from foreign embassies, prison officials allowed her to send food to her husband.
She is still not allowed to meet with him in person, though, she said.
Prum Chantha said she is concerned over reports of the spread of COVID-19 in the prisons, adding that her group will continue to appeal to foreign embassies in Cambodia for intervention in their husbands’ cases.
“We cannot be silent. My husband didn’t commit any legal offense, so I must demand his release and look for ways to make that happen,” she said. “If all these officials were in this position, they would also miss their spouses and children,” she added.
Prison food often lacks nutrition, and prison officials should allow inmates’ family members to visit and bring them food, said Am Sam Ath of the local rights group Licadho.
“We always look for ways to encourage the prison department to facilitate visits by the families of detainees,” he said.
Courts and the relevant government departments should also address the issue of overcrowding in the prisons, Am Sam Ath said.
“We have seen the the Ministry of Justice is currently drafting a proposal to allow inmates whose full sentences have almost been served to be released under certain conditions. But we also want to see a decision reached in the cases of prisoners held while waiting for their trial.”
“We call on the courts to speed up their procedures so that these cases can be heard, with some detainees being given priority for release,” he said.
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