Police have closed their investigation into the alleged beating of a boy and a young man by guards at Phnom Penh’s infamous Prey Speu detention center after a mass breakout, despite a commune police officer seeing their wounds firsthand.
After escaping from the center along with 16 other detainees on Sunday morning, Chak Samnang, 13, and Yem Sok Khim, 22, were attacked by guards before being rescued by villagers, they told police.
A guard, left, squats among detainees at the Pur Senchey Vocational Training Center in Phnom Penh last year. (Alex Consiglio/The Cambodia Daily)They had each been brought to the center in Pur Senchey district, officially called the Phnom Penh Social Affairs Center, after being caught sleeping in public and fled because of physical abuse from guards and insufficient food, police said Monday.
Villagers told police they had witnessed the guards’ attack, during which Mr. Sok Khim was beaten with a wooden bat, and Samnang suffered a gash to the head.
In order to file an official complaint against their attackers, however, the two were asked to return to the center that morning to identify their assailants with a Choam Chao commune police officer.
Because they declined to do so, the officer, who confirmed that the pair appeared to have been recently wounded, said no official complaint was submitted.
District police chief Yim Sarann said on Tuesday that without the identification of the guards, an investigation would be futile.
“We went down to investigate the center and the security guards answered that they did not beat the boy and the man,” Mr. Sarann said, adding that the victims’ and villagers’ accounts lacked evidence. “If there is not more specific evidence we cannot investigate, so we suspended the investigation.”
Social Affairs Ministry spokesman Toch Channy shared Mr. Sarann’s position.
“Neither of them filed a complaint against the security guards, so our authorities cannot investigate,” he said. “The security guards did not beat them.”
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, which has long called for the center to be shut, called the government’s response “ludicrous” and said the victims should not be required to return to the center to identify their attackers.
“What we’re seeing here is excuses to not take forward criminal procedures despite consistent testimony for years that guards at the prison have abused those incarcerated,” Mr. Robertson said.
In May, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered authorities to reform the center, long plagued by reports of the physical and sexual abuse of detainees, or close it. The Social Affairs Ministry has yet to put forward its reform plans.
(Additional reporting by Janelle Retka)
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