Monday, November 30, 2009

Horror prison lifts the bar on atrocities

Claims of torture haunt Prey Sar jail

Published: 30/11/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News

The Prey Sar prison which is presently home to Thai spy suspect Sivarak Chutipong and thousands of other Cambodian and foreign inmates is under fresh fire for its "appalling conditions".

The complex - described as one of the most notorious jails in Southeast Asia and often compared with the infamous Tuol Sleng prison under Khmer Rouge rule - has been slammed for alleged human rights violations.

"I've often heard about brutal torture against the prisoners there," said a 25-year-old Cambodian woman.

"It's really scary. I think most Cambodian people know well about its conditions."

Prey Sar is the largest of about 20 prisons in Cambodia. It houses 2,500 to 2,600 prisoners despite being originally designed to house a maximum of 1,200, a prison warder said.

Mr Sivarak, who worked at Cambodia Air Traffic Services, was arrested on Nov 12 for relaying information about the flight schedule of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who flew into Phnom Penh a day earlier after being appointed economic adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Prey Sar, in Dor Kor district about 10km from central Phnom Penh, is under the supervision of the Ministry of Interior and the Health Ministry.

The public perception of the prison is one of "fear and brutality". It is reportedly cramped and lacking in proper health care.

"We have treated all prisoners well - all the allegations are groundless," said the prison warden.

He said all prisoners had good sleeping arrangements.

If they were ill, the prison provided them with proper medication.

"I have seen and talked to Sivarak. He is healthy. We take care of him very well because we know what is what," the warden said.

It has been more than 10 years since the Cambodian government moved prisoners from the centuries-old jail built during French colonial rule in central Phnom Penh near the Royal Palace complex to Prey Sar.

Prey Sar was a commune and detention centre during the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979, when more than 1.7 million people lost their lives.

Some say the brutality at Prey Sar is reminiscent of Tuol Sleng, the torture and detention centre also known as S-21 and now a genocide museum.

"Prey Sar is not much different," said 51-year-old Sameth Tul, a victim of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Sameth Tul was 17 when Khmer Rouge soldiers took control of Phnom Penh and later ruled all of Cambodia.

He was living in Takai province, south of Phnom Penh, at the time. His family was sent to work in a nearby commune and lived there for nearly four years until the collapse of the Khmer Rouge regime.

"Fortunately, no one in my family was killed because we were all farmers," he said.

"Those being killed were doctors, teachers, academics and lawyers.

"I remember the whole experience of when I was locked up in the commune camp," Sameth Tul said.

"I had to get up at 3am and [go to] sleep at 11pm.

"Many people died of torture, and lack of food and sleep."

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