Cambodia abandons plans for “five-star prison” in Phnom Penh

The Cambodian government is to cancel a project to add a for-profit "hotel" wing to Phnom Penh’s largest prison, according to Ministry of Interior officials.

The government had announced earlier this month that it was about to complete a $4m, 1.5ha extension to the notoriously overcrowded Prey Sar prison, to which wealthy inmates could move for a fee. The wing was to have held about 400 people in larger than normal cells space will extra space for exercise and prayer.

The "five-star jail" was being developed in association with private company Kunn Rekon Holdings, which agreed a 45-year build-operate-transfer deal with the government that includes sharing revenues.

Now the Interior Ministry Department of Prisons has told Voice of America that those plans will be scrapped. A spokesperson said: "I think the whole paid idea, the concept … has been dropped. But we need to go through a formal process with clearing with the company and informing the government. There will be no paid prison."

The ministry told the AFP agency that the new wing would now be used to hold people who were awaiting trial.

No reason was given for the about-turn, but the ministry had earlier expressed concern that the project would not meet international and national standards for detention facilities. It added that the government might have to pay Kunn Rekon Holdings compensation for terminating the contract.

The ministry denied that the project was dropped due to criticism that it would create a two-tier justice system, and make criminals less afraid of being jailed.

Duch Piseth, advocacy officer at the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, told The Phnom Penh Post in 2017 that designating areas within prisons as a "good space or bad space" infringed the rights and freedoms of all inmates, who should be treated equally.

However, the Cambodian prison system is already dominated by corruption, according to a 2015 report by the Cambodian Centre for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights. This found that the 18 prisons it monitored already allowed wealthy inmates to pay for better cells, alcohol and prostitutes, and some offered "VIP cells" for well-connected prisoners.

Image: Prisoners in Cambodia have an average of 0.7 sq m each (CC BY-NC ND/ICRC/T Tuitiengsat)

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