Nine people have been arrested after a man was beaten to death at a drug rehabilitation center in Phnom Penh.
Moy Samnang, 38, died from severe injuries, including to the head, which he suffered at a center in Prek Pnov district after recently being taken there by police, said district police chief Chin Kimthov.
Samnang had suffered bruises all down his torso, a swollen head and two black eyes, and died after receiving emergency treatment, Kimthov said.
“The one who caused the violence, we are bringing that person in to face the law. He hasn’t run anywhere and he was there,” he said.
Kok Roka commune police chief Sok Sophal said nine people were arrested on Monday, the day after Samnang died.
Neither police chief would elaborate on the conditions at the center.
A police officer involved in the investigation, however, said drug users were kept in small, crowded rooms, and residents in Samnang’s room had run it like a gang.
Thirty-eight people were in Samnang’s 8-by-8-meter room, with clear “bosses” and a strict hierarchy, said the officer, who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
“When a new one arrives, the boss of the team must welcome him. This is their rule,” he said. “They welcome the person [by beating] his chest, which they call ‘eating noodles,’ and slapping his face, which they call ‘rice packet.’”
“After the boss gave his welcome, he ordered his men to torture [Samnang], like striking his head, stomping on his chest.”
A staff doctor gave Samnang oxygen but he died, the officer said.
Social Affairs Ministry spokesperson Touch Channy acknowledged problems at the Kraing Thnong center in Kok Roka commune.
“I very much regret [what happened],” Channy said. “This is a lesson for us in managing it, and from now we will have stricter management. The center recently got a new director … and it was not good. We will not be lax, and will not allow a beating to death like this to happen.”
He added that a “head” resident, who is doing well in recovering from drug abuse, is assigned for each room, but asked that the system not be compared to a gang.
“We use this method to control the group through him, and we select someone who is doing better than the others and knows right and wrong,” Channy said.
Amnesty International last year strongly criticized Cambodia’s war on drugs, which has been ongoing since 2017 and led to more than 21,000 arrests in 2020. In its report, the rights group called the rehabilitation centers “drug detention facilities” and said drug users in Cambodia have suffered “serious and systematic” human rights abuses. The group interviewed a former “room leader” at a center where a “mixture of beating, torturing, and addiction” killed a detainee in March 2018.
The report also highlighted alleged corruption in the justice system, including torture by police.