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Government rejects pilot project for offenders to do community service

Justice Ministry official Keut Rith seen speaking earlier this year in Phnom Penh.
Justice Ministry official Keut Rith seen speaking earlier this year in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Government rejects pilot project for offenders to do community service

A senior Justice Ministry official said a pilot project to increase bail approvals and community service sentencing for small-time offenders would be impossible, weeks after the project was announced during the visit of a United Nations human rights official.

UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith, during her fact-finding mission in August, had discussed a pilot project in Battambang province to increase alternative sentences and bail approvals to reduce instances of pre-trial detention – which have seen a severe increase thanks to an ongoing government drug crackdown.

Speaking on Wednesday, Secretary of State Keut Rith said the proposal was too ambitious for the Cambodian context, where people would not warm to the idea of letting criminal offenders out of prison, calling it a “modernisation of the law that did not fit Cambodian society”.

“If the court does not jail a prisoner, but the court frees the prisoner, even though the prisoner participates in social work, the public will not understand this clearly,” he said.

Rith pointed to Cambodia’s frequent incidents of mob justice as evidence that community service sentencing would not work.

Smith did not respond to requests for comment and Battambang provincial officials seemed to be in the dark on the project. Buth Kimsean, deputy provincial governor, and Ol Thearith, provincial prison director, said they had not heard of the project.

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