Ministry: Deaths at Prey Speu Center, but No Negligence

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Meshed bars block the entrance to the Prey Speu center. (Ananth Baliga/VOD)
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The Social Affairs Ministry has confirmed an unspecified number of people dying at the notorious Prey Speu detention center after a local rights group alleged deaths and inadequate care, but a spokesperson denied any negligence or wrongdoing.

Human rights NGO Licadho alleged in early December that at least 10 people had died in July and August at the Prey Speu center in Phnom Penh’s Choam Chao II commune, which is purportedly a vocational training center but has been used to hold the homeless and other groups. Licadho raised questions specifically over two deaths in August of a man and woman who it says were not given adequate care after falling sick, and has called for the center to be closed.

The Social Affairs Ministry sent a team to investigate the claims on December 24, including a ministry spokesperson, two deputy Phnom Penh governors and officials from the Phnom Penh health department, said Toch Channy, the ministry spokesperson.

Channy said last week that part of Licadho’s allegations were true because there had been deaths at the center in July and August. The spokesperson would not clarify how many deaths there were, however, or the circumstances leading to those deaths.

“What Licadho mentioned in their report that people died between July and August is true. But it is not fair to say that the center left them sick without medical treatment as there is a medical team inside the center,” he said.

Channy said the people who had died came to the center with preexisting illnesses and received medical care. He denied Licadho’s allegation that the center ignored these health concerns or did not provide adequate care, including in the case of the alleged deaths of the man and woman.

“We asked the director and staff working there, but they said there are no people who died recently,” he said, referring to the deaths of the man and woman. “We kept insisting and asked them repeatedly, but they still said no.”

Licadho said its allegations were based on eyewitness accounts. When VOD visited the center in December, three men inside the center, who would not identify themselves, denied any deaths in July and August and refused to allow reporters inside the premises.

Am Sam Ath, who is operations director at the NGO, said the group had enough evidence to support its allegations and reiterated Licadho’s demand that the center should be shut down immediately.

“If there are no changes and it is still being used to illegally detain and physically abuse people, then the government must close down this center,” said Sam Ath.

Prey Speu was shut down in 2012 after a raft of allegations of abuse at the center and reopened a year later, this time christened the Pur Senchey Vocational Training Center. The center is often used for the extrajudicial detention of marginalized and vulnerable groups such as drug users, sex workers and the homeless.

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