Two days after Prime Minister Hun Sen told Phnom Penh municipal authorities to either improve the city’s notorious Prey Speu detention center or shut it down, a spokesman said on Thursday that officials had concluded that the “indispensable” facility would remain open.
During a ceremony to mark International Child Protection Day on Tuesday, Mr. Hun Sen said authorities should follow the advice of critics and shut down Prey Speu if they could not fix problems at the center, which been plagued by accusations of arbitrary detention and abuse of vagrants, drug addicts and prostitutes.
City Hall spokesman Chin Bunthoeun said officials including municipal governor Pa Socheatvong toured the center on Thursday and, encouraged by what they saw, vowed to keep its doors open.
“The position of both His Excellency Pa Socheatvong…and His Excellency Vong Sauth, minister for the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, is to keep this center operating, not shut it down because this center is indispensable,” Mr. Bunthoeun said.
Despite an onslaught of criticism from human rights organizations, the spokesman said the center played a vital role in assisting some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.
“Some have alleged the center is a place of torture, but the fact is that this center is a place to do social work for humanitarian purposes, and we do not send humans there to torture them because we gain nothing by hurting those people,” he said.
However, Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said he still harbored concerns about the center.
“We are still concerned about the matter of the Prey Speu center because the issues rights workers have found at the center are rarely improved and fixed,” he said.
“If there is no improvement, there will have to be criticism of the government for not being able to improve anything.”