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Detained Protesters Held in Distant Facility Near Vietnam Border

Cambodian Buddhist monks run together with supporters of Cambodian National Rescue Party from a rally site of the Democracy Square in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014.
Twenty-three people were arrested and detained in two separate crackdowns on protesters last week, but until Wednesday, families did not know where they were being held.

Prison officials now say that those who were arrested in the crackdowns—which left five people dead and 40 injured—are being held in Correctional Center 3, in Kampong Cham province, near the Vietnam border.

The arrests came after weeks of protesters from garment workers, housing rights activists and opposition supporters.

Many of the protesters are poor, and family members reached by phone on Thursday said the distance is too far for them to afford many visits.

“I had to spend a lot of money traveling from Phnom Penh to here,” said Prak Sovannary, 30, who is the wife of detained housing activist Vorn Pov. “Next time, I’ll have to borrow money, or ask civil society organizations to support my travel.”

The distance from Phnom Penh has made it hard for her husband to meet with doctors, lawyers or family, she said.

Vorn Pov is accused of destruction of public property and incitement, for taking part in a demonstration alongside factory workers at a special economic zone in Phnom Penh, where 10 people were arrested. He needs medical attention, Prak Sovannary said.

“The doctor has come from Phnom Penh, but he can’t take care of my husband’s deteriorating health very often, and we don’t know if there is enough food,” she said.

Other relatives who have visited the facility had similar concerns.

“I borrowed $75 from a neighbor for this visit, and now all the money is gone,” said Sorn Doeun, the 38-year-old stepfather of Reth Ratha, one of the detainees. Sorn Doeun traveled 250 kilometers to meet with his stepson, he said. “Next week, if I can borrow more money, I’ll visit him again.”

Authorities kept the whereabouts of the detainees secret for nearly one week. Rights workers say they worry the detainees are being held far from Phnom Penh to prevent them from talking to lawyers and to keep them out of the public eye.

Kuy Bunsorn, director of prisons for the Ministry of Interior, said the detainees were moved to the CC3 facility because Phnom Penh prisons are overcrowded.

But Am Sam Ath, lead investigator for the rights group Licadho, said the facility is typically only used to confine people found guilty of serious crimes. It is likely the facility is being used for fear that a closer one would see demonstrations for the demand of the detainees, he said.

About 100 soldiers were posted outside CC3 on Thursday, there to prevent further demonstrations, he said.