Cambodian Political Prisoners’ Wives Fear for Husbands’ Health

Prison food lacks nutrition, and authorities should allow prisoners' families to visit, one rights group says.

Cambodian Political Prisoners’ Wives Fear for Husbands’ Health

The wives of two political prisoners held in Cambodian jails are fearing for their husbands’ health after seeing them in failing health during recent visits, the women said, blaming prison authorities for failing to provide the men with adequate food.

Tek Sok Lorn, the wife of jailed opposition activist Prov Chantheun, said she was shocked at her husband’s appearance when she saw him through a glass partition at the Mort Khmung prison in Tbong Khmum province.

Her husband was thin, pale, and exhausted, and looked sadly at her through hollow eyes, Tek Sok Lorn told RFA on Wednesday.

“When I walked into the prison facility to visit him, I saw his tears,” she said.

“As his wife I am really concerned about his health, since he isn’t getting any sunlight. I am requesting the court to please render justice for us, and I’m asking the judge to be loyal to the Khmer nation and know what is right and what is wrong,” she said.

Nguon Phalla, the wife another Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) activist, Um Yet, said she had previously been able to bring him food every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, and that he had been in good health during the last four months.

But now her husband has lost weight, has high blood pressure, and suffers from stomach pains possibly caused by malnutrition, she said.

“[The court] should release him,” Nguon Phalla said, adding, “He appears to have lost about 10 kilos of weight after being held for only six months, and I’m concerned that if he’s left like this he may lose even more, and that his life may be at risk.”

“I’m asking the court to release him and drop all the charges against him,” she added.

Verdicts to be announced

On June 30, the Tbong Khmum provincial court will announce verdicts in the cases of 14 political and land-rights activists. Eight of these, including six CNRP members and two land-rights activists, are now being held in the provincial prison, sources said.

Arrested between late 2020 and January 2021, they face charges of plotting, conspiracy to topple the government, and inciting social chaos for having worn T-shirts bearing political slogans and for gathering in protest last year in front of the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh.

The CNRP was banned and disbanded, and its leader Kem Sokha arrested, in late 2017 as part of a wider crackdown on civil society by longtime ruler Hun Sen, driving many party leaders into exile.

Speaking to RFA on Wednesday, Nuth Savana—spokesperson for the General Directorate of Prisons—said that inmates’ families are allowed to bring them food, medicine, and other amenities, and that prison officials always pay attention to the condition of their prisoners’ health.

The rate of new COVID-19 infections in the prisons is now declining, though one new case was recently found in the Kompong Thom provincial prison, Nuth Savana said. Physical contact between prisoners and their families is still barred, though, he added.

“During a workshop we held yesterday with the International Red Cross, we discussed the possibility of allowing video calls or phone calls between inmates and their families. These are all just options for discussion, though,” he said. “We haven’t made any decisions yet.”

'We cannot be silent'

Prum Chantha, the wife of political opposition figure Kak Komphear who remains locked up in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Prison, said that after her group—named “Friday wives” for their weekly protests—appealed for help from foreign embassies, prison officials allowed her to send food to her husband.

She is still not allowed to meet with him in person, though, she said.

Prum Chantha said she is concerned over reports of the spread of COVID-19 in the prisons, adding that her group will continue to appeal to foreign embassies in Cambodia for intervention in their husbands’ cases.

“We cannot be silent. My husband didn’t commit any legal offense, so I must demand his release and look for ways to make that happen,” she said. “If all these officials were in this position, they would also miss their spouses and children,” she added.

Prison food often lacks nutrition, and prison officials should allow inmates’ family members to visit and bring them food, said Am Sam Ath of the local rights group Licadho.

“We always look for ways to encourage the prison department to facilitate visits by the families of detainees,” he said.

Courts and the relevant government departments should also address the issue of overcrowding in the prisons, Am Sam Ath said.

“We have seen the the Ministry of Justice is currently drafting a proposal to allow inmates whose full sentences have almost been served to be released under certain conditions. But we also want to see a decision reached in the cases of prisoners held while waiting for their trial.”

“We call on the courts to speed up their procedures so that these cases can be heard, with some detainees being given priority for release,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sovannarith Keo. Written in English by Richard Finney.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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Asian Countries Welcome G7's Answer to China's One Belt, One Road Program

The US-led Build Back Better World (B3W) initiative is scant in details, though, and some countries' leaders say they now want more information.

Asian Countries Welcome G7's Answer to China's One Belt, One Road Program

Bangladesh and nations in Southeast Asia are welcoming the Group of Seven’s new answer to China’s One Belt, One Road initiative, saying it will be another source for financing their burgeoning infrastructure needs.

But because the U.S.-led Build Back Better World Partnership (B3W) initiative is scant in details, officials of some governments in the region and analysts say they also are waiting for more information to see how it can help their countries. China has an eight-year head start and has pumped huge amounts of money into its global infrastructure-building program (OBOR).

The new initiative, announced this month at the G7 summit in Cornwall, England, promises sustainable and value-driven infrastructure investment to the tune of “hundreds of billions of dollars” in low- and middle-income countries in the coming years.

The program will help narrow a U.S. $40 trillion need for infrastructure projects across the developing world, President Joe Biden said in announcing the new initiative.

B3W is “a good opportunity for us,” Bangladesh Planning Minister Abdul Mannan told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, this week.

“We will try to exploit the opportunity for our development efforts. Other than the Chinese sources, B3W would allow us to explore funds for infrastructure development in Bangladesh,” he said.

Thailand, too, “welcomes” the G7 initiative and views it and Beijing’s OBOR initiative as “mutually reinforcing,” Thanee Sangrat, spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told BenarNews.

“Both aim to strengthen connectivity and create resilient supply chains in our region,” he said.

The Philippines welcomes B3W “but to see and to actually receive it is to believe [it],” presidential spokesman Harry Roque told BenarNews.

Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest and most populous country, is also waiting to see how B3W investments are made, according to Jodi Mahardi, spokesman for the investment ministry.

“We welcome the B3W development initiative proposed by the G-7, but we want to see the implementation. There have been many U.S.-led initiatives that are lacking in realization,” Jodi told BenarNews.

“The schemes must be flexible, based on the needs of partner countries, not on what Western countries see as good. I used the word ‘partner’ because we don’t want the relationship to be between donors and recipients, we want it to be [cooperation] between equals.”

BenarNews contacted Malaysia’s investment agency, the trade ministry, and the minister in charge of economics, but officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Economists and political analysts in these countries said B3W investments would be good alternative sources of funding for infrastructure projects.

Ahsan H. Mansur, an economist and executive director of the Policy Research Institute in Dhaka, described the G7 initiative as “a big opportunity for us, the developing and low-income countries.”

“This is because now we have an alternative option to get funds from,” he told BenarNews.

B3W is not fully fleshed out yet but, in principle, is a good funding source for Indonesia, said Fithra Faisal Hastiadi, executive director of Next Policy, an Indonesian think-tank.

“I think B3W will be a good alternative for Indonesia as a non-aligned country. But I think the problem is the initiative is still half-baked,” Fithra told BenarNews.

Walden Bello, co-chair of the Board of Focus on the Global South, a Bangkok think-tank, was blunter. He dismissed the G7 initiative as “purely reactive.”

“[A]nd purely reactive programs tend to be put together in a hurry with little serious thought to follow-through,” he said.

For Oh Ei Sun, an international relations specialist based in Singapore, B3W will lead to countries in the region “playing both sides to see who will be able to offer more.”

“It’s all about the money, let’s not kid ourselves,” Oh told BenarNews.

Unveiled in 2013, OBOR is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s signature geopolitical program that aims to build a modern-day Silk Road through a network of ports, railways, roads, and trade routes to connect China to markets in Southeast Asia, South Asia, and beyond.

OBOR began eight years ago with a focus on investments around the world in energy, infrastructure, and transportation projects. Estimates about the size of OBOR investments vary widely – from $1 trillion to $8 trillion.

According to a London-based financial data firm Refinitiv, in January 2020 OBOR comprised close to 3,000 projects valued at $3.87 trillion.

Ongoing construction in Southeast Asia includes the $6 billion Bandung-Jakarta high-speed rail project in Indonesia and the $1.3 billion Kyaukphyu deep-water port in Myanmar, among others.

In Bangladesh, China has provided nearly $7 billion for nine development projects since October 2016, according to data from the Ministry of Finance.

‘More equitable way’

Some may see B3W and OBOR as complementary, but President Biden and the G7 see the two initiatives as fundamentally different.

“The point is that what’s happening is that China has this Belt and Road Initiative, and we think that there’s a much more equitable way to provide for the needs of countries around the world,” Biden told a press conference in Cornwall on June 13, according to a White House transcript.

“And we believe that will not only be good for the countries, but it’ll be good for the entire world and represent values that our democracies represent, and not autocratic lack of values.”

The democracies he referred to are the U.S. and fellow G7 members Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Biden was highlighting that China is not a democracy, and alluding to what critics have said is Beijing’s practice of predatory lending or debt-trap diplomacy in OBOR.

For instance, analysts point to Chinese loans to Sri Lanka, in particular, as a cautionary tale for nations planning to borrow from Beijing.

In 2017, a Chinese state-owned company took over a majority stake in Sri Lanka’s strategic Hambantota port after Colombo struggled to repay its loans from China.

B3W, on the other hand, emphasizes what it calls “enhanced multilateral finance,” the G7 said in a communiqué issued from Cornwall on June 13.

Multilateral development banks and other international financial Institutions “have evolved to embody the highest standards for project planning, implementation, social and environmental safeguards, and analytical capability,” the communiqué said.

“We emphasize the importance of transparent, open, economically efficient, fair and competitive standards for lending and procurement, also in line with debt sustainability, and the adherence of international rules and standards for major creditor countries,” the joint statement said.

B3W-related investments are to be guided by standards such as those promoted by the updated Blue Dot Network, G7’s communique added.

The Blue Dot Network, announced by the United States, Japan, and Australia in November 2019, assesses and certifies infrastructure projects for environmental sustainability, financial transparency, and economic impact.

‘Thailand shares G7’s endeavor’

Thailand, for one, especially welcomes the B3W’s focus on transparent and sustainable investments through clear and established international mechanisms, said Thanee, the foreign ministry spokesman.

“Thailand shares the G7’s endeavor in developing high-quality infrastructure with a fresh approach that advocates responsibility for the environment and for the people; fiscal sustainability; the participation of international investors and financial institutions; and compatibility with global standards by adopting international norms,” Thanee said.

“[T]he B3W initiative … supports our priorities.”

B3W’s priority investment areas will be climate, health and health security, digital technology, and gender equity and equality, according to a White House fact sheet about the initiative.

But transparency in investment, and funding in gender equity and health projects may be seen by some nations as “pet projects” that come “with strings attached,” said Oh, a senior fellow at the Singapore Institute of International Affairs.

“These are important only in the eyes of advanced liberal democracies” and not considered as vital in some other countries, Oh told BenarNews.

“The G7 is also harping on transparency which is in not the norm in most parts of the developing world,” Oh told BenarNews.

Oh, Indonesian economist Fithra, and other analysts cast doubt on whether the G7 countries, however advanced and industrialized, have the financial chops to compete with China’s massive OBOR investments.

Bello, the analyst based in Bangkok, noted that China’s initial commitment to OBOR was $1 trillion in 2013-2014, but had now ballooned to – by some estimates – around $4 trillion.

“Washington has already committed the bulk of what it plans to raise from taxes to the planned new U.S.-focused high-tech industrial policy program passed by the Senate over a week ago,” Bello told BenarNews, referring to the Innovation and Competition Act, which analysts say is intended to counter China.

“The biggest problem [for B3W] is the money, and with all these countries suffering fiscal crises, with the possible exception of Germany, where are they going to get the trillions of dollars to match China’s investment?” 

European members of the G7, meanwhile, will have trouble convincing their citizens that infrastructure investments are needed around the world as they recover from the pandemic and the effects of Brexit, Fithra said.

“If they have to chip in for the initiative, where does the money come from? There will be opposition from their own people. So it’s like a paper tiger,” he said.

Chan Hoi Cheong, a senior political and security risk analyst at Safeture AB’s Malaysia branch, said B3W may have come too late in the geopolitical game.

“If B3W aims to capture the hearts and minds of Asian countries, it will have a lot of catching up to do,” Chan told BenarNews.

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.

Source : Radio Free Asia More   

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