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Inquiry into prison death afoot

Kandal prison inmate Mut Linan at the time of his arrest last month. Linan died in prison under suspicious circumstances in mid-December. Photo supplied
Kandal prison inmate Mut Linan at the time of his arrest last month. Linan died in prison under suspicious circumstances in mid-December. Photo supplied

Inquiry into prison death afoot

The Kandal Provincial Court and the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons yesterday said they will investigate the suspicious death of a 31-year-old inmate at the Kandal Provincial Prison after the victim’s mother filed a complaint casting doubt on the official version of events.

Long Vanny, 53, the mother of inmate Mut Linan, said that on December 27, a lawyer she hired filed a complaint to the court to “find the truth” about her son’s demise. Officials, she said, had told her that her son had committed “suicide” by jumping from a 1.2-metre water tank inside his cell – a death seemingly inconsistent with the grievous injuries he sustained.

Linan hadn’t even been convicted of a crime. He was awaiting trial after being arrested last month for allegedly throwing bricks at a relative’s home over a longstanding dispute.

“My son was normal. He didn’t have any mental problems,” she said, disputing the notion he would kill himself. “On the 15th of December, I visited him at the prison and he said I shouldn’t worry because it was a small thing and he wouldn’t be in jail for long.”

The next day, however, she received a call from the prison to inform her that her son had been taken to Chey Chumneas Hospital.

“When I got there, I saw many bruises on his face, his teeth were broken, his eye balls [sunk in] and still bloody and his neck [was] broken,” she said, adding that he also had bruises on his body.

Nouth Savna, deputy director-general of the General Department of Prisons, said he had recently received the preliminary report on the fatality from the prison’s director, Chat Sineang.

There is no “final conclusion” on what caused the death, and a technical team is scheduled to go to the prison to investigate soon, Savna said. According to the report, at 9:15am on December 16, three inmates brought Linan to the prison clinic and a guard transferred him to Chey Chumneas hosptial, but he died 15 minutes later.

“There is a lack of information in this case,” he said.

Prison Director Sineang said a “team leader” in the cell, who is also an inmate and in charge of alerting guards to any problems, claimed the victim got on top of the water tank and “fell”.

“In this case, we did not receive any information [of a problem], and just found [the inmates] carrying the man, and they said he fell off the water tank.”

The prison guards stand about 10 metres from the cell, Sineang said. Ten inmates have already been questioned, and offered the same story, he added. “I got a call from a prosecutor and I told him that the court has to investigate this case because this is not normal,” he said. “We are not sure whether he fell from the water tank or something happened in the cell.”

Tin Sochetra, spokesperson for the Kandal prosecutors’ office, confirmed an investigation was underway.

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said “a prompt investigation by an independent and impartial body is essential”, and said the “investigation must also include a medical examination”.

She added that pre-trial detention should be avoided as much as possible, particularly in cases where the accused is charged with a minor offence, like Linan.

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