District police officials in Phnom Penh said this week that they have undertaken a new security initiative—detaining people they had previously arrested.
Workers at several human rights organizations said the detentions are coordinated city-wide, so that when a person is released by one district department, an officer from another is waiting out front to cart them to his holding cell.
The law dictates that a person must be charged with a crime in court or released from police custody within 48 hours.
But rights workers said Thursday that one man had been in and out of five jails in the past eight days.
Police officials denied that the detentions were coordinated, saying that their officers simply had orders to arrest known criminals.
Deputy Municipal Police Chief Ly Rasy confirmed that the arbitrary detentions were a citywide initiative. The district police “must know where the suspect is to protect the people’s security,” he said.
Huy Song, deputy police chief of Prampi Makara district, said Wednesday that his department released three men Tuesday.
“These people were previously arrested as robbers and thieves. They are still active but police cannot find any evidence. Because we have no evidence, we call them to the police post and photograph them and ask for their biographies. We keep them about one or two days,” he said.
“Police have done this before,” Huy Song added. “It makes it easy to control crime and security in the district.”
He blamed a weak judiciary that freed or lightly punished criminals.
“These people are not scared and continue their [criminal] work,” he said. “These people never change their minds or their professions.”
Meanchey District Police Chief Po Muth said Thursday that his men also had orders to haul in people they recognized as criminals.
“We always call them to the police post when they come into our area, because they are suspects. Why are they coming here and where are they living? We just ask them. We do not arrest them,” he said.
Officers also keep tabs on the public by having guesthouse operators and landlords inform on their tenants, Po Muth said.
“In every country, they do like this,” he said. “If we don’t do this, how can we control the people?”
Hun Song, the deputy police chief in Tuol Kok district, said the detentions ensured people had not escaped from prison, as the courts don’t notify police about jail terms.