Amnesty International on Thursday called for the immediate release of nearly 40 demonstrators who are being held in a facility the group called “an extra-judiciary detention facility.”
The demonstrators were seized outside City Hall on Wednesday, where they had demanded the courts release eight representatives arrested earlier this month during violent clashes with police in a forced eviction at the Borei Keila neighborhood in central Phnom Penh.
The 38 people, including 24 women and six children, are still being “unlawfully detained” at the Prey Speu Social Affairs Center, Amnesty said, adding that no human rights monitors have been allowed to visit the facility.
“The center is used by the authorities to arbitrarily detain homeless people, drug users and sex workers rounded up from the streets,” Amnesty said. “Human rights NGOs have previously reported that detainees there have been subjected to abuses including rape, murder, and threats of violence.”
City officials declined to comment on the statement.
In a joint statement, Cambodian rights groups also condemned the detention. “We also call for the permanent closure of the Prey Speu center, which has been proven time and again to be nothing more than an extra-judicial detention facility,” the groups said.
The detentions follow a violent forced eviction of the Borei Keila neighborhood earlier this month, wherein some 300 families lost their homes to a development plan that was supposed to provide housing for the people it would displace. Rights groups say the company failed to provide enough housing, and residents resisted the eviction by throwing rocks and bottles at police during the Jan. 3 eviction.
Eight people were arrested in that clash, leading to Wednesday’s gathering before City Hall.
Amnesty called for the release of the original eight as well as the 38 detained on Wednesday, “pending further investigations and for members of the security forces found to be responsible for excessive use of force to be suspended and prosecuted.”
Lao Monghay, an independent political analyst, said the government needs to find a way to resolve the problem, comparing such forced evictions to the Khmer Rouge evacuation of Phnom Penh in 1975.
“It is just a smaller evacuation than 1975,” he said. But “the evictions in Cambodia seem extremely cruel.”