Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution prohibits such practices; however, beatings and other forms of physical mistreatment of police detainees and prison inmates reportedly continued during the year.
There were credible reports military and police officials used physical and psychological abuse and occasionally severely beat criminal detainees, particularly during interrogation. As of July a local NGO observed physical assaults against detainees and prisoners in nine cases. Journalist Kim Sok told local media following his release from detention that prison guards beat him whenever he disobeyed an order or opened books. Other detainees reported authorities forced them to walk for up to an hour with a bucket of water on their heads, or forced them to stand in the hot sun for several hours.
As of July a local NGO reported nine physical assaults against civilians not in detention by local authorities, government agents, or the private bodyguards of government officials.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions remained harsh and in many cases life threatening. In February the International Labor Organization (ILO) requested the government to defend its practice of compulsory labor for detainees and urged the government to amend several laws to ensure they did not lead to incarceration involving forced labor.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem. According to the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons (GDP), in July 2017 authorities held more than 26,000 prisoners and detainees in 29 prisons designed to hold a maximum 11,000 prisoners. GDP officials reported the government’s “war on drugs” had exacerbated overcrowding. The GDP declined to release updated figures.
In most prisons there was no separation of adult and juvenile prisoners; of male and female prisoners; or of persons convicted of serious crimes, minor offenses, or in pretrial detention. According to the GDP, in 2016 approximately 34 percent of detainees were in pretrial detention and 29 percent had received a final verdict, approximately 8 percent of prisoners were women, and 4 percent were minors. A local NGO indicated it witnessed pregnant women in prison as well as children living with incarcerated mothers. The same NGO reported that the number of infants and toddlers living with their mothers in prison had increased sharply since 2016 due to the government’s campaign against drugs. According to one local NGO, the number of infants in prison rose from 30 in 2015 to 149 as of March.
During the year to October, the GDP did not report how many prisoners died in prison. In 2016, the most recent year on record, 76 died. Local NGOs maintained that allowances for food and other necessities were inadequate in many cases. Observers continued to report that authorities misappropriated allowances for prisoners’ food, exacerbating malnutrition and disease. Authorities did not provide updated figures on the number of prisons in which inmates had access to clean water, although as of 2016, 18 of 29 prisons provided clean water. Prisons did not have adequate facilities for persons with mental or physical disabilities. NGOs also alleged prison authorities gave preferential treatment, including increased access to visitors, transfer to better cells, and the opportunity to leave cells during the day, to prisoners whose families could pay bribes. According to a local NGO, “prisoner self-management committees,” groups of inmates organized and directed by prison guards, sometimes violently attacked other prisoners. NGOs reported significant drug use by prisoners, made possible by bribing guards.
The country has seven government and three private drug rehabilitation centers. Most observers agreed the majority of detainees in such facilities were there involuntarily, committed by police or family members without due process. According to the National Authority for Combating Drugs, no detainee was younger than age 18. Observers noted employees at the centers frequently controlled detainees with physical restraints and subjected them to intense exercise.
Administration: There were no legal provisions establishing prison ombudspersons. Prisoners could submit uncensored complaints about alleged abuse to judicial authorities through lawyers, but a large number of prisoners and detainees could not afford legal representation. The government stated it investigated complaints and monitors prison and detention center conditions through the GDP, which reportedly produced biannual reports on prison management. The GDP, however, did not release the reports despite frequent requests by civil society organizations.
Authorities routinely allowed prisoners and detainees access to visitors, although rights organizations confirmed families sometimes had to bribe prison officials to visit prisoners or provide food and other necessities. There were credible reports officials demanded bribes before allowing prisoners to attend trials or appeal hearings, before releasing inmates who had served their full term of imprisonment, or before allowing inmates to exit their cells. Kung Raiya, a student who served one year in prison for a politically sensitive Facebook posting, said he had to bribe prison guards approximately one dollar each time he met with imprisoned politicians or human rights activists.
Independent Monitoring: The government allowed, subject to preconditions and restrictions, international and domestic human rights groups, including the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and OHCHR, to visit prisons or provide human rights training to prison guards. Some NGOs reported limited cooperation from local authorities, but it was difficult to gain access to pretrial detainees. This was particularly true in high-profile cases such as that of opposition leader Kem Sokha, released on September 10 after a year in pretrial detention while authorities permitted visits only by his wife and defense lawyers. Despite the family’s requests for visits by the ICRC, the terms under which the government would allow such visits–including no direct access to the detainee–were unacceptable to the family.
The Ministry of Interior required lawyers, human rights monitors, and other visitors to obtain permission prior to visiting prisoners–often from multiple government agencies depending on the individual case–and sometimes the government required NGOs to sign a formal memorandum of understanding delineating their “roles” during prison visits.
Although some local independent monitoring groups were able to meet privately with prisoners, others were not. A local human rights NGO that provides medical care to prisoners reported the government periodically refused requests to visit convicted prisoners who were members of a political opposition party. Another NGO reported the government accused it of harboring political bias and using its visits to embolden political prisoners. OHCHR representatives reported they were usually able to visit prisons and hold private meetings when interviewing a particular prisoner of interest.