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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Prey Speu probe sought

Detainees sit on the steps of a building at Phnom Penh’s Prey Speu social affairs centre last year.
Detainees sit on the steps of a building at Phnom Penh’s Prey Speu social affairs centre last year. Erin Handley

Prey Speu probe sought

Human rights groups have called for an investigation into the recent death of a young man at the state-run “rehabilitation” centre Prey Speu, as officials continued to deflect responsibility yesterday.

Phnom Penh’s mentally ill, sex workers, street children and other so-called “undesirables” are routinely rounded up and detained arbitrarily at the centre, where a 30-year-old unnamed drug user died on September 25.

“This is yet another unexplained death in Prey Speu Center that needs to be investigated thoroughly and such state centers should be permanently closed as people are held illegally in dire conditions,” Naly Pilorge, of rights group Licadho, said in a message.

Simon Walker, representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in Cambodia, noted that UN Special Rapporteur Rhona Smith said earlier this year that “dramatic improvements were necessary to meet basic human rights standards”.

Specifically, he said, “appropriate professional medical support was not available at the time [of Smith’s visit] and . . . there were problems of ventilation, limited water and sanitation facilities and overcrowding issues”.

“[I]nvestigation of any harm done to someone in the centre, including his or her death, should be prompt so as to identify the cause of death or other harm and possibly to prevent similar events occurring in the future,” Walker said in an email.

A source with knowledge of the case previously alleged the man died after being hit by a security guard.

Although Social Affairs Ministry spokesman Touch Channy said the authorities had been informed of the death, Theng Kosal, Choam Chao commune police chief, said he had not been notified.

“No one reported it to us. As long as there are reported deaths from the centre, we will go to have a look,” he said.

Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said his office was informed.

“You need to understand, when we rounded him up, he had a mental illness and was homeless and we did not know what disease he has. We could not see by our own eyes; we did not know,” he said.

“If we had known he had the disease, we would surely never send him to a place which is not a hospital, to send him to die at [Prey Speu].”

He said despite the death, authorities would continue to round up the homeless “to control and take care of them”.

Mom Chandany, the current Municipal Social Affairs Department director overseeing the centre, maintained the death did not occur on her watch.

“The previous director was in charge . . . It did not happen under my management,” she said.

The previous director, Sorn Sophal, also denied he was in charge at the time. A document authorising security officers to conduct roundups at traffic lights dated September 25 – the same day as the man’s death – bears Chandany’s signature.

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