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Behind closed cell doors

Three men re-enact how they say they were detained by authorities after allegedly being tortured in Ratanakkiri’s Lumphat district
Three men re-enact how they say they were detained by authorities after allegedly being tortured in Ratanakkiri’s Lumphat district in February. ADHOC

Behind closed cell doors

Torture and ill-treatment are rife in Cambodia’s police stations and prisons, with women, children and the mentally ill among those targeted, and no signs of the abuse subsiding, a new report from rights group Licadho says.

Released today to mark the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the report references allegations from more than 500 people of abuses ranging from beatings to threats of nail extraction and electric shocks since Licadho began compiling figures in 2008.

It’s a figure the rights group says does not begin to touch on the true scale of the problem.

The abuse comes at the hands of “police and other security forces at the point of arrest and during transit to police stations. Once in prison, inmates are not only subject to abuse by guards but also by other inmates, often under the direct order or with the acquiescence of prison authorities,” the report states.

In the first four months of this year alone, Licadho says it heard 49 allegations of torture and ill-treatment.

“In 2014, detainees were slapped, kicked in the ribs and chest, and beaten on the head and torso with sticks and electro-shock batons. Police officers stamped on detainees’ hands and, in one case, covered a man’s head with a plastic bag whilst he was lying on the floor, stamped on his body and kicked him repeatedly in the ribs,” the report says.

As in previous years, one of the main purposes of abuse was the forced extraction of confessions or money, it adds.

“This alarming testimony leaves us in no doubt that Cambodian authorities are failing in their responsibilities to prevent and punish acts of torture and ill-treatment,” said Licadho director Naly Pilorge.

But Chet Vanny, deputy police chief for Battambang province, said he did not believe that police in Cambodia ever coerced confessions from suspects.

“If a suspect doesn’t confess and we have evidence, we show it to him and just ask repeatedly if he now confesses. It’s not coercion. As you know, this is a modern society and there is no such thing as torture or violence happening during the questioning of suspects,” he said.

In the report, Licadho says it is “not aware of any successful prosecutions of law enforcement officials for torture related crimes in recent years”, adding that the number of administrative complaints and investigations within prisons is also low.

Kuy Bunsorn, director general of the prison department at the Ministry of Interior, said that this was because torture and ill-treatment were simply not an issue.

“I’m not really interested in their report. Our government has worked hard to improve prison conditions to follow national and international laws,” he said.

National Police spokesman Kirt Chantharith could not be reached yesterday.

But, according to Licadho, while “there has clearly been significant progress towards reducing levels of torture in Cambodia in the decades since Khmer Rouge rule, such progress appears to have stalled completely in recent years”.

The report notes that Cambodia has failed to establish an independent National Preventative Mechanism to monitor and prevent torture and ill-treatment in places of detention as required under the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), which it ratified seven years ago.

And while “levels of torture and ill-treatment in Cambodia remain high … avenues for complaint are limited and … those responsible for abuse are rarely punished”, the report says.

One of the most high-profile instances of alleged abuse this year came from the 23 union leaders, workers and activists who were violently arrested during deadly clashes at a garment strike in early January.

One of the 23, 31-year-old Yong Sam Orn, told the Post yesterday of abuse and humiliation when he was taken to Kampong Cham province’s remote Correctional Center 3 (CC3) prison following his arrest.

“When we arrived at CC3, our clothes were stripped. We were naked and [forced to put] our hands behind our heads. [The police] walked with batons behind us into the rooms and we were forced to look at the ground. We looked like animals. They threatened us when we were walking, saying that if we dared to look up, we would be beaten,” he said.

“It is such an inhumane act … prisoners are also humans.”

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