A major rights group yesterday called for the immediate release of dozens of people “arbitrarily detained” in Phnom Penh’s notorious Prey Speu Social Affairs Centre, after being forcibly rounded up from the streets last week.
In a statement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) hit out at the roundups of street children, homeless people, drug users and sex workers, which took place ahead of the funeral of the late Cambodian People’s Party and Senate president Chea Sim.
On Tuesday, 110 of those rounded up were still being detained at Prey Speu, where meals are meagre, health care is nonexistent and escape is not an option.
Staff at the centre said they were under orders from City Hall not to release those unwillingly held there – a group that included young children.
“Cambodian holidays and ceremonies should not be ‘celebrated’ with the arbitrary arrests of the country’s most vulnerable people,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW.
“Those thrown without charge into misnamed ‘opportunity centres’ should be immediately released.”
Son Sophal, director of Phnom Penh’s Social Affairs Department, refused to comment on the roundups, or whether people had been released.
A member of staff at the detention centre who requested anonymity claimed that around half of those held on Tuesday have now been released.
Wan-Hea Lee, country representative of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said 12 people living with HIV/AIDS were yesterday “released in the care of an NGO specialised in such services”.
Two children, she said, remain at the centre.