T HE Mayor of Phnom Penh has ordered the city's police to issue fines of one million riel to brothel owners who are still doing business despite the ban on prostitution, according to Samong Sorana, Chief Department of Crime of Toul Kork district police station.
Individual contracts, have been signed between the police and brothel owners which state : "We [the brothel owners] will pay one million riel to the police if we are found still operating this business."
Sorana said that this drive has been in effect since the second week of October, about two months after the Mayor issued the order banning prostitution in Phnom Penh. The new decision allows the police to arrest brothel owners, sex workers and clients if they don't pay the money. "If they do not have money or do not pay us, we will take their belongings instead," he said.
Sorana claimed that the mayor of Phnom Penh orally instructed the police to begin this operation, but has not passed a written order or written a letter officially sanctioning it.
"I think this may be a new trick by the Mayor to threaten sex workers in order to stop the sex industry in the city. It is rather difficult to charge this amount," he said.
Sorana explained that police in his district have arrested about 40 prostitutes, brothel owners and customers since the passing of the ban order and released them after detaining them for one day in the police station and educating them about the ban.
A brothel owner who has secretly opened shop in Tralokbak village one kilometer north of Toul Kork said she has no money or even property worth one million riel.
"I have nothing to pay this amount of money with, even if they send me to jail," she said.
She said the head of her village had warned the people that if any brothel or house owner opened for business, they would be reported to the police and that it would cost them heavily.
She also said that she has only two girls who are taken by the occasional guest to hotels, and do not use her house.
"Some police spies wear ordinary clothes and pretend to be clients. When the deal is made, they take out police identity cards and illegally demand a certain amount of money: 50,000 riel or $10, for example.
"Sometimes, if we do not have money, they ask for beer. Some policemen come in plainclothes and pretend to be clients. After taking one of the girls, they take out their ID cards and leave after having sex without paying us," she said.
She said that the plainclothes police spies sometimes threatened to take them to the police station if they were not properly compensated.
"It is very hard to recognize who is in charge. Sometimes, one man comes in, flashes his card and says he is the policeman in charge, and then a different guy comes next and says the same thing," she said, adding that no one wanted to make trouble with the police because they were afraid of being detained.
Srey Toch, a prostitute staying in Toul Kork who was arrested on Oct 12, told the Post that the police had informed all the owners that if they wanted their detained girls released, they would have to pay one chi of gold (about $44).
"My brothel owner did not come to get me released, so the policeman asked for my ring. I told him it was worth more than one chi, so he took the ring and gave me 50,000 riel to make up the balance," she said.
"The police were roving around looking for sex workers who have earrings, rings or necklaces," she claimed.
Sorana confirmed that some of his policemen use ordinary clothes because it is easier to investigate, but refused to accept that the police have been involved in bribery.
"As far as I know, our police did not threaten people or ask for money, but perhaps some policemen from other districts did so," he claimed.
An Khmer NGO official who declined to be named said that the suppression of prostitution was creating more corruption among authorities, especially policemen. "Different police districts had different policies: some just took in people, educated them about the ban and then freed them, but others asked for money and harassed powerless prostitutes," she said.
"Cracking down on brothels has made the situation uncontrollable, scattering prostitutes all around Phnom Penh, and spreading the risk of HIV and Aids. It is also an excuse for police to make money.
"Some brothels are still open because they are protected by police officers and soldiers.
" I know that some police officers have their own special places to go to - they have girls, free sex and drink and they are even given some bribes.
" I am happy that now they arrest both sex workers and customers, but it is not enough. They should also arrest policemen, because some policemen are addicted to prostitution," she pointed out.