Staff at the Phnom Penh Municipal Referral Hospital said Tuesday that they had no record of a recent visit from a man who died late last month at the Prey Speu social affairs center, contradicting claims made by a city official.
Both a file search by the hospital’s administration chief and a review of the hospital’s daily logs for the month of November produced no evidence that So Phea — who arrived in ill health at the Prey Speu center on November 2 and died there on the 26th, according to rights group Licadho—was ever there.
On Sunday, Human Rights Watch and Licadho issued a statement accusing the Prey Speu center of denying So Phea proper care. The groups repeated their longstanding call for the government to close down the center and others like it around the country, which serve mainly as temporary, extrajudicial holding cells for vagrants, prostitutes and drug addicts. Former detainees have described depraved conditions and say the centers are rife with physical abuse.
The rights groups were unable to determine the cause of So Phea’s death because his body was cremated at a pagoda near the center and no autopsy was conducted.
Responding to the groups’ claims on the same day that their statement was released, Phnom Penh’s social affairs director, Sorn Sophal, said So Phea had been sent to the municipal referral hospital during his stay at the center at least twice.
“We sent him to the hospital for treatment, but he died because he was seriously ill,” he said at the time.
Licadho said staff at the center and other witnesses with firsthand knowledge of the case told its investigators that So Phea arrived thin, ill and with sores covering his body, and at no point was let out of the facility. One guard, the group said, told the investigators that staff could not take the man to the hospital because they were “too busy.”
On Tuesday, staff at the Municipal Referral Hospital corroborated Licadho’s account.
The hospital, a dimly lit, well-worn building on Street 691, just north of the Olympic Stadium, has no electronic record of its patients. But Chan Sokchea, its head of administration, said his search of the hospital’s “operations” files—where a patient with So Phea’s reported wounds would have been recorded—for the month of November came up with nothing.
“I think he has not come here,” he said. “If he came here, his name would be on the list.”
The hospital’s ledger of new patients from November 5 to November 30, examined by a reporter, did not include So Phea’s name.
Contacted Tuesday, Mr. Sophal, the social affairs director, again insisted that the man was let out of the Prey Speu center for medical care.
“He said he had a disease and asked to go out for medicine, so we let him go out,” he said.
Mr. Sophal said medical records at the center predating So Phea’s arrival indicated that the man had been suffering from both Aids and tuberculosis, but did not elaborate on where the records came from, or when they were obtained. And asked to specify the dates on which So Phea was allegedly taken to the referral hospital, he hung up on a reporter.
Mr. Sokchea, the hospital administration chief, said there was no record of So Phea in his communicable-disease files.
Officials at the Prey Speu center could not be reached.