In January 2013, LICADHO recorded footage of a cellblock in one prison with 12 identically sized rooms. Despite their equal size, the cell populations ranged between one and 12. LICADHO understands that in this case, the single cell occupant was separated not for security purposes, but because of privilege and financial status. Most of the 12 cells in this block held an average of seven inmates at any given time.
At 5.46 m2, this provides only 0.78 m2 per person.
At night, only two or three inmates actually sleep in these cells, with the others sleeping in the corridors of the cellblocks. Prison authorities told LICADHO that only low security inmates are permitted to sleep in the corridors. However, there have been reports in numerous prisons that inmates, regardless of their security designation, have been able to pay to sleep in corridors where there is generally more airflow and natural light.
Prisoners with access to money, or family or friends, can buy a better space to sleep. Some prisons reportedly house ‘VIP cells’ for well-connected prisoners or those able to pay for single cell accommodation. In some prisons drugs, alcohol and prostitutes are readily available to those able to pay. LICADHO has received reports of inmates paying up to $2,000 to be transferred to a different cell or prison.
In many prisons, inmates report having to pay towards the electricity in their cell, with the occupants of each cell in Phnom Penh’s CC1 prison reportedly paying up to $200 per month to authorities for lighting and ceiling fans. The price was reportedly raised from $150 following the recent installation of larger ceiling fans.
“I shared a cell with 70 other women. As a newcomer with no money, I had to sleep on the concrete floor with 20 others. We each had about 0.5m width for sleeping, so we always had to sleep on our sides. There was no room to move and if you did you would bump into your neighbor. At night people would step on me as they made their way to the toilet. Those who slept on the raised platform paid $20 or $30 to do so.”
“Sok and Socheat were detained without trial for fifteen months, accused of using violence, a charge they both denied. They slept on the floor in cells measuring 4x5m with more than 20 other people.”
Only the poorest prisoners in Cambodia survive on prison food and water supplies alone. Those who can afford to do so buy additional food to supplement their diet, while others rely on donations from visiting friends and relatives. In order to do this, prisoners are often required to pay more money or give a percentage to the prison guards.
“In April 2015, as temperatures soar, Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison continues to suffer from a months-long water shortage. An inmate told the Post that Prey Sar has now been without water for around nine months, with staff and well-connected convicts continuing to profit from the shortage by inflating prices of bottled water trucked into the prison. While prisoners already had to pay for clean water, increased prices since a burst pipe cut the main supply last year has left some inmates now unable to afford even their basic needs.”
“The extreme heat we are experiencing poses a serious health risk, especially for elderly and poor inmates who are unable to afford sufficient water on a daily basis.”[^1]
[^1]:Phnom Pen Post
Meal types will not be adjusted for religious or health reasons, however detainees are allowed to cook their own food in prison. Meals are generally served at 10:30 am and 4:30 pm each day.
Prison health care facilities are woefully inadequate and under-resourced and some prisons have no health posts whatsoever. Those that do exist usually lack sufficient medication and appropriate equipment, while staff often have no proper medical qualifications and only basic training.
Many prison health posts lack privacy, and there is little attempt made to ensure that medical consultations take place in full confidentiality.
Upon admission to prison, all new inmates should receive a proper medical examination as soon as possible and should thereafter be provided with free medical care and treatment whenever necessary. However many incoming inmates receive no such examination, and screening for transmissible diseases such as TB is not applied across the board. The most common ailments identified in Cambodian prisons apart from the common cold were beriberi, asthenia, dyspepsia, gastritis and hypertension.
LICADHO has received some alarming reports of medical care and medication being provided only to those who can afford to pay. Inmates regularly report that even if they are able to visit the health post when sick, they do not receive a proper check-up, instead being sent away with painkillers regardless of their actual health concern. Many inmates rely on their friends or families to bring them regular medical supplies, often paying money to receive them.
In some prisons, pregnant women and those who have recently given birth and babies receive no specialized care or health advice.
LICADHO believes that the deliberate or negligent denial of appropriate and timely health care in Cambodian prisons has, in some cases, led to unnecessary inmate deaths. Those with serious health problems are often transferred to hospital too late because their conditions were not recognized, ignored or misdiagnosed and wrongly treated. LICADHO is particularly concerned at the high rate of deaths among young inmates who had no apparent health problems before entering prison.
Availability of resources and activities depends on the prison’s structure, location and size.
Some prisons, such as CC4, have large prison-run labor programs while others, such as Siem Reap prison, rely on NGOs who provide much of the training, recreational activities and work opportunities. On the other hand, in Oddur Meanchey’s temporary prison facility, activities are non-existent and the vast majority of prisoners are not even permitted to leave their cells for basic open-air exercise.
While some prisons boast of recreational activities and vocational training opportunities, these are often offered to only a privileged few, and sometimes only for a fee.
New laws introduced in 2012 prohibit the use of prison labor for producing goods for export. However, there remain a number of issues surrounding prison labor in Cambodia, including the ability for private firms to employ prisoners.
Testimony received by LICADHO, as well as recent media reports, show that prisoners in Cambodia still work for private companies in conditions which bear no resemblance to a free market relationship. A recent investigation by the Cambodia Daily newspaper revealed that around 15 prisoners from Oddur Meanchey’s temporary prison were working to build the new prison under the contractual services of a private company under questionable conditions.
“Apart from there being no health or safety precautions at the construction site in Oddar Meanchey —some prisoners worked without shoes and none were wearing protective equipment—their pay of less than $1 a day is well below the $5 or more a construction worker would make outside prison walls.”[^2]
Similarly the Phnom Penh Post newspaper reported that a lucrative, private carpentry business is operating within Battambang prison, employing prisoners under exploitative conditions. Prisoners who refuse the work or are taken ill have been denied visitation rights, locked in their cells and endured long periods in handcuffs as a form of punishment. “We don’t want to be punished, so we have to work even if we are sick.” Publicly managed projects, including large-scale agriculture programs at CC3 and CC4 prisons have also seen prisoners coerced into participating without adequate payment. A prison guard, who spoke on condition of anonymity, described the situation in no uncertain terms.
“They force prisoners to work for them [making furniture] for sale, and prisoners do not get any of the benefits. We have no power, so we cannot speak out.”[^3]
Former female inmates of one prison described to LICADHO how the occupants of entire cells had their out-of-cell time restricted when not enough women attended the sewing workshop to make car wash cloths. LICADHO also received reports of some women being threatened when they refused to work even if they were too unwell to do so, including being told that their families would not be able to visit them as punishment.
The workshop itself is reportedly extremely hot with a low ceiling and poor ventilation. As a result many of the women suffered health problems for which they received no treatment. Some reported that they received no payment, but that instead the profits from selling the washcloths were shared amongst the prison guards and cell leaders.
In smaller prisons, inmates have told LICADHO that they have to pay to be offered the opportunity to work outside their cell in the prison garden, the kitchen or in small scale handicraft or sewing projects.
Inmate access to news from the outside world, including books, newspapers, magazines, radio and television is not guaranteed in Cambodia.
Access to news and current affairs can be patchy and dependent on political circumstances.
For example in the immediate aftermath of the disputed July 2013 National Assembly elections, there were reports that some prisons, notably in Phnom Penh, restricted access to radio news broadcasts. Similarly, during mass pre- and post-election opposition rallies, some inmates told LICADHO that personal radios were confiscated to prevent any political dissent within prisons.
In the past few years LICADHO’s prison access has become increasingly restricted. The organisation cannot visit places of detention without prior notice and, increasingly, prison researchers are unable to conduct in-prison interviews in full confidentiality.
Some released inmates have reported receiving threats before prison visits by LICADHO and other organizations. They were told not to complain about their prison experiences and threatened with punishment, including the reduction of food rations if they did so. Some said that after such visits authorities or cell leaders questioned them about the details of their conversations.
For most inmates, financial status and money paid dictates their condition of detention, treatment, family visits and access to basic needs such as food, water, daylight and fresh air.
The poorest inmates and those without families, or whose families and friends cannot visit them are by default at the bottom of the prison hierarchy. They sleep on the bare concrete cell floors, often near the toilet, and survive on the minimal prison food and water allocated. Some of them spend the majority of their day inside hot, dark and airless cells.
Adults and juveniles have no protection or effective mechanisms to complain against torture and ill treatment, be it by other prisoners or prison guards.
LICADHO has received numerous reports of inmates being denied access to family visits, sometimes for months at a time, as punishment for minor infringements of prison rules. This includes prisoners with young children and juveniles.
This denial of family visits also results in the restriction of food, medicine and other basic supplies, given prisoners dependence on family in an under-resourced prison system.