Armed Gang Breaks 20 Out of Prey Speu Center

A group of men armed with swords broke into Phnom Penh’s Prey Speu social affairs center on Wednesday and released 20 of their friends from the controversial detention facility, according to officials.

The breakout occurred at the center in Pur Senchey district’s Choam Chao commune at about 8 p.m. on Wednesday night, according to commune police chief Theng Kosal.

“The man who takes care of the center told police that about 10 people holding sticks and swords walked up to the closed gate and broke the lock,” Mr. Kosal said. “They came inside to take their friends.”

Mr. Kosal said that although the group had absconded by the time police arrived, officers were able to prevent a separate trio of homeless people from walking out of the center.

“Currently, our police are investigating to find the offenders,” he added.

The center—official named the Pur Senchey Vocational Training Center, despite offering no vocation training—has long drawn criticism from local rights groups.

Ostensibly a rehabilitation and education center for vulnerable citizens, critics say the center is little more than a dumping ground for vagrants, sex workers and drug users, who are then subjected to inhumane treatment or neglect.

Sorn Sophal, director of Phnom Penh’s social affairs department, said Prey Speu was not a fortified compound, and that detainees could leave at any time—even without the help of friends with swords.

“We do not use security guards, police or soldiers to protect [Prey Speu],” Mr. Sophal said. “There is no detention, as your newspaper has accused. Even a child can come inside and use intimidation to get people out.”

Mr. Sophal said, however, that his department would pursue legal action against the group that broke open the door, once they were identified.

“Police are working on this case,” he said.

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, which has campaigned to have Prey Speu closed, said it was not true that inmates were free to leave at will.

“Our organization is always begging to shut down the center because of illegal confinement, torture and human rights violations,” he said.

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