Boeung Kak women kept away from NGO, reporters
By May Titthara and Shane Worrell, The Phnom Penh Post
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Imprisoned Boeung Kak lake villagers, some crying, motioned to human rights representatives and Post reporters through a chain-link fence at Prey Sar prison on Tuesday.
Their efforts to talk to the visitors were futile, however, as two guards stopped anyone from approaching the 13 women sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison last Thursday, or Ly Chanary, who was arrested the same day.
Rights group Licadho put on an International Children's Day show in the courtyard of Prey Sar's CC2 complex for about 300 imprisoned youths and eight children being raised behind bars, as a show of a different kind played out nearby.
The two guards, dressed in unmarked grey clothing distinct from regular guards at Prey Sar, ordered those who ventured near the fence closest to the Boeung Kak women to move away.
Licadho president Pung Chhiv Kek, who led a contingent of about 50 youths into Prey Sar for the event, spoke to prisoners up close through the fence, but when she began to move in the direction of the Boeung Kak prisoners, a guard told her to clear away.
"In my long experience of going to Cambodian prisons, it was the first time I was prevented to see prisoners," she told the Post. "They did this because they had orders coming from the upper stratum of the regime, which regards Boeung Kak lake as a sensitive question."
Licadho has condemned last week's trial, which came two days after the 13 were arrested at a demonstration, and an hour after they were charged with disputing authority and illegally occupying land owned by Shukaku, CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin's development firm.
"[Today's refusal] may also have been retaliation, since Licadho defended the rights of the prisoners and criticised the unfair trial in which they were convicted," said Pung Chhiv Kek.
One of the guards told Post reporters they would be ejected from the prison if they did not move from under a tree about 30 metres from where the Boeung Kak group stood.
"I will throw you out of the prison if you are stubborn enough to stay here," he said.
The reporters were instructed to sit on the other side of the courtyard, just metres from other prisoners they were free to converse with.
Prisoners with children inside Prey Sar were allowed into the courtyard to enjoy the event, but a request from Licadho to have the Boeung Kak women enter the yard was denied, Pung Chhiv Kek said.
Chheng Barang, 18, son of Boeung Kak prisoner Chheng Leap, said he had travelled to Prey Sar to visit his mother over the weekend, but a guard had refused him entry.
"I miss my mother, and I want to see her," he said. "I want her back home. She did not do anything wrong. Why has she been detained in prison?
"When I am eating, I always think about my mother, because I don't know if she has food," he said.
Jeff Vize, prison project consultant with Licadho, said prisoners in Prey Sar are often forced to buy their own food if they want proper nourishment.
"Food is inadequate both in terms of quantity and nutritional value. There are [also] health dangers related to . . . water, medical care, fresh air and space," he said, adding that CC2, for women and children, was filled to more than twice its capacity.
As for visits, prisoners in Prey Sar are entitled to one family visit per week, Vize said.
"Even for regular authorised visits, visitors generally pay something for the privilege," he said. "There are roughly fixed amounts, which vary from prison to prison, but often the price depends on how wealthy you appear to be."
Meanwhile, a coalition of NGOs, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday calling for him to vacate the women's convictions.
"The trial failed to meet even the most rudimentary fair trial standards . . . The defence lawyers' request for the case files was rejected, as was their request for time to prepare a defence," the letter says.
"They were also refused the right to call defence witnesses, though several were ready to testify just outside the court. These are all clear violations of not only international fair trial standards, but also Cambodia's Code of Criminal Procedure."
Sao Sareoun, a Boeung Kak man arrested last Thursday, is also being held in Prey Sar.
The Ministry of Justice could not be reached for comment yesterday.