Cambodia urged to probe use of hazardous cellphone jammers in prison cells


Families and relatives of jailed activists in Cambodia have called on their government to probe the use of cellphone jamming devices in prison cells they believe are impacting the health and rights of detainees.

Jailed activists complained of what they say is radiation poisoning emanating from the device which causes memory loss and other health impacts.

The recent appearance of opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) activist Kong Sam An at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court last week to face charges of “incitement”, shocked his wife who said he is shockingly thin, irritated, and forgetful.

Eap Sour said her husband, like other detainees, complained that his health was deteriorating and that he had passed out in his cramped cell in Phnom Penh’s notorious Prey Sar Prison because of the jamming devices.

“He looked like he was going to faint during the hearing, and I wanted to cry,” she said.

“I’m disappointed that good people like him are treated badly by the authorities. He fought for the nation, worked as a teacher, and eventually ended up in prison. I feel sorry for him, but I can do nothing but pray for him to get well soon and return home.”

Prey Sar Prison is the largest of Cambodia’s prisons and administered by the country’s Ministry of Interior. Rights groups say conditions in the facility, formerly known as S24, are atrocious.

London-based Amnesty International, as of January last year, Prey Sar held over 10,000 prisoners, approximately 500 percent over capacity. Up to 40 percent of all prisoners are in pre-trial detention and thousands are held for minor, non-violent offenses, such as use or possession of drugs.

Several activists, including Cambodian Confederation of Trade Unions president Rong Chhun, who are being tried on charges widely seen as politically motivated, have also complained of Prey Sar’s tight quarters and said they believe the cellphone jamming devices have impacted their health and memory.

Former prisoner Kong Raya said that each cell in Prey Sar has at least four or five devices. He said the devices make a noise that bothered his ears and gave him a headache.

Instead of installing the devices, he added, prison guards should be fighting corruption within their ranks and stopping prisoners from having cell phones brought into the facility.

“I’m no expert, but prisoners—including political activists—have the same complaints,” he said.“When they were outside, they were fine, but when they are in jail, they lose their memory.”

In response to the complaints, Nuth Savna, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior’s General Department of Prisons, said he welcomed the idea of setting up a commission to investigate the impact of using the devices, as his officers work at Prey Sar. He claimed that the company that installed the devices had previously confirmed that they are not harmful.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director for human rights monitoring and protection at local rights group LICADHO, confirmed to RFA that many detainees have made similar claims about the health effects of the cellphone jamming devices, but that so far, no one has probed the issue.

He called on the government to establish an expert and independent commission to investigate and address the allegations.

“We are not experts, we do not dare to explain whether they have an affect or not, so we want an expert committee to study the matter,” he said.

In March last year, Amnesty International’s regional director, Nicholas Bequelin, called the conditions in Cambodia’s jails “inhumane,” adding that detainees and staff are unable to take preventable steps, including physical distancing and isolation during the coronavirus pandemic. (Source: RFA)