The Ministry of Social Affairs has claimed that guards at the notorious Prey Speu detention centre were assaulted by detainees before a mass escape on Sunday.
In a statement released last night, the ministry claimed that new detainees – who were drug-addicted and wielding a knife and stick – injured the guards when they opened the door for detainees to have breakfast, sparking a “chaotic” escape.
“The centre chief asked the guards to look for those who caused the injuries to bring them back for education,” the statement said. “The authority was performing their work with humanity.”
The guards apprehended two escapees – 13-year-old Chork Samnang and 22-year-old Yan Sokhim – but local villagers carrying wooden sticks threatened to “confiscate” the guards’ motos and called in the local police. The police yesterday said the villagers told them the pair had been beaten by the guards.
The ministry said 294 people were in detention at the centre and 18 had escaped. The police previously had claimed 70 had attempted to flee.
Meanwhile, a children’s NGO and a UN agency have criticised a plan announced this week to detain people with mental disabilities – currently residing at Prey Speu – on the same site as an orphanage in Kandal.
Ministry spokesman Touch Channy said children would not be at risk because a 3-metre-high fence would be built between the new national centre for the mentally disabled and the Khmer-French-Hungarian Friendship Orphanage Centre in Barkou commune, Kandal Stung district.
Channy added that the centre would likely take up 2 hectares of the 12-hectare site, and parents would be separated from their children.
“It is possible they could torture their children, so we can separate them from their parents by taking children to the orphanage . . . if the parents have a mental illness; they cannot live together,” he said.
Vuthy Sokanha, spokesperson for Friends International, which has been working with the government to reform Prey Speu, believed the new plan could pose a risk to children.
“We don’t think [the ministry] would hire someone specialising in child protection there. [Detainees] might not intend to hurt any children, but it might happen,” she said. “Those mentally ill people need their family and mental therapy . . . and support from their close ones.”
Wan-Hea Lee, OHCHR Representative in Cambodia, said in an email that voluntary community care rather than treatment in a “closed setting” was international best practice.
“Persons suffering from psychosocial disabilities are the most vulnerable among persons in street situations and need to be cared for appropriately and in a manner that respects their human rights.”