Close Detention Center, Human Rights Watch Says

Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey Vocational Training Center, better known as Prey Speu, has once again come under fire, with officials admitting Thursday that many of the vagrants detained there ahead of former CPP President Chea Sim’s funeral last week have yet to be released.

As part of preparations for the June 19 funeral, police rounded up dozens of street children, beggars and sex workers and sent them to the center, where rights groups have documented a litany of physical and sexual abuse.

In a statement released Thursday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for the release of those being held at Prey Speu, and for the closure of the center and others like it.

“Cambodian holidays and ceremonies should not be ‘celebrated’ with the arbitrary arrests of the country’s most vulnerable people,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for HRW, said in the statement. “Those thrown without charge into misnamed ‘opportunity centers’ should be immediately released.”

“Keeping detention centers like Prey Speu open is an endless invitation to the authorities to violate the basic rights of people deemed ‘undesirable,’” Mr. Robertson added. “The government should close these centers immediately and support genuinely voluntary services to assist marginalized Cambodians.”

Sorn Sophal, director of the municipal social affairs department, said fewer than 100 people were taken off the street before Chea Sim’s funeral, and that 10 to 20 remained at the center as of Thursday. Asked why it was necessary to remove the people from the street before the funeral, Mr. Sophal hung up on a reporter.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said Prey Speu would not be shut down.

“We will not follow this foreigner organization’s recommendation,” Mr. Dimanche said. “Prey Speu is not perfect,” he said, but added that claims of abuse at the center were unfounded.

Hem Sarin, a security guard at the Pur Senchey Vocational Training Center, said 80 people were brought to the center before Chea Sim’s funeral and that 40 were released on Wednesday.

“They do nothing in here,” he said. “They just eat and relax and we do not have any skills training for them.”

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