The Ministry of Justice on Wednesday announced that 321 inmates are seeking pardons or sentence reductions ahead of Khmer New Year in an annual tradition that typically includes a prisoner release.

It wasn't immediately known if any political prisoners were on the list, which was drawn from those incarcerated at 20 provincial prisons and four detention centres, according to Soch Sophanara, deputy chief of the ministry's prosecution department.

No one convicted of a "heinous" crime was included, Sophanara said.

The committee considers sentence reductions for those who have served at least a third of their sentences and pardons for inmates who have completed two-thirds of their prison term.

“We don’t look into the request of those who commit repeat crimes, [or] heinous crimes with big sentences,” he said.

The Ministry’s approval of pardon pleas has come under scrutiny. The pardons committee does not immediately reveal the names of approved clemency requests, but they are published months later in the Royal Gazette.

Last year’s list, released in June, disclosed that King Norodom Sihamoni had signed off on four pardons for convicts sentenced for theft or murder and sentence reductions for 33 rapists.

Sophanara said the committee only looked at relevant documents of the cases and was unsure if any political prisoners were in the list. He said prominent land activist Tep Vanny, for one, was not among the applicants.

“In the list, there is no mention of such classifications. If they request, the committee will look at their names, crimes, rehabilitation process and relevant documents,” he said.

Around 10 percent of the applicants were foreigners, he said, including Chinese nationals.

Last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen clearly stated that he would not consider any pardons for jailed opposition officials, which includes opposition leader Kem Sokha, former lawmaker Um Sam An and more than a dozen Cambodia National Rescue Party activists jailed for an alleged “insurrection”.

The number of pardon applications has seen a steep drop after Hun Sen in 2015 criticised the Justice Ministry for releasing convicted robbers and drug dealers, which he said led to recidivism.