A screen grab from a video showing extreme overcrowding in a Cambodian prison.

Cambodia: Exclusive footage reveals deplorable prison conditions

Amnesty International is releasing shocking footage providing first-hand evidence of the inhumane conditions and extreme overcrowding inside one of Cambodia’s prisons.

The organization recently called the country’s detention facilities a “ticking time bomb” for a potentially disastrous coronavirus outbreak.

“These deplorable conditions make a mockery of ‘physical distancing’ and show the Cambodian authorities’ utter neglect for these inmates’ basic rights, even during a pandemic,” said David Griffiths, Director in the Office of the Secretary-General at Amnesty International.

“These conditions were never acceptable. Today they are completely unconscionable. The authorities must urgently ease this overcrowding crisis while giving all detainees access to appropriate healthcare without discrimination.”

The video is recent and taken in one of the country’s prisons. The exact date and location of the footage cannot be revealed to protect its original source.

According to government data, Cambodia’s prisons held 38,990 people as of 2 April 2020, despite having an estimated capacity of just 26,593. Some facilities were previously estimated to be up to 463% over capacity.

Cambodia’s national prison population has skyrocketed by approximately 78% since December 2016 as a result of the government’s punitive and abusive anti-drugs campaign, now in its fourth year. Over 72% of all prisoners in Cambodia are reportedly held in pre-trial detention and thousands are held for minor, non-violent offences such as use or possession of drugs.

These deplorable conditions make a mockery of 'physical distancing' and show the Cambodian authorities' utter neglect for these inmates' basic rights, even during a pandemic.

David Griffiths, DIrector, Office of the Secretary-General

Thousands more are currently held against their will in so-called drug “rehabilitation” centres and “social affairs” centres spread across Cambodia.

Compulsory drug detention, where people suspected of using drugs are sent with the aim of making them stop using drugs, is inherently arbitrary. While the total population in Cambodia’s drug detention centres is not publicised, information received by Amnesty International suggests that overcrowding inside these centres is equally as severe as in prisons.


In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, governments across the world, including Ethiopia, Bahrain, and Iran have taken decisive action to ease overcrowding in places of detention by releasing people held on politically-motivated grounds, on minor and non-violent charges, pre-trial detainees, older people, and people with underlying health conditions.

Amnesty International is urging governments to review the need for continued custodial detention in order to safeguard the health of people in detention, prison staff, and the general population. Governments should consider if prisoners qualify for parole, early or conditional release, or other alternative non-custodial measures. They must fully take into account individual circumstances and the risks posed to specific groups of prisoners, such as older people or those with serious medical conditions, including those with a weakened immune system.

Given that the spread of transmissible diseases is a public health concern, especially in the prison environment, it is desirable that, with their consent, all detainees can have access to free COVID-19 screening tests, including those who are scheduled for early release. For those who remain in detention or prison, the authorities must provide a standard of healthcare that meets each person’s individual needs and ensures the maximum possible protection against the spread of COVID-19.


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