By Prak Chan Thul
PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – Cambodian police defended on Wednesday making arrests and punishing people by beating them using rattan canes for breaching coronavirus restrictions during a two-week lockdown aimed at containing a spike in infections.
The Southeast Asian country still has one of the world’s smallest coronavirus caseloads, but an outbreak that started in late February has seen overall cases spike to 7,747 and with 54 deaths.
Phnom Penh went into lockdown on April 15 and has declared some districts “red zones,” banning people from leaving their homes except for medical reasons.
A Phnom Penh police spokesman said the caning and arrests were in order to save lives, claiming that most of the public supported them.
“The Phnom Penh administration has decided that no one is allowed to leave their homes because the area is at risk of infections,” spokesman San Sokseiha said.
“A small number of people didn’t listen, and we must take measures to save their lives,” he added.
But Cambodian human rights groups condemned the canings and arrests, saying that there were better ways to ensure people protected themselves and others from the coronavirus.
“We are shocked such severe punishments are used against people for some small infractions,” Naly Pilorge, director of rights group Licadho, said.
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) echoed the concerns.
“We are also dismayed at footage showing use of force by authorities against individuals. Violence is never the answer,” CCHR’s executive director Chak Sopheap said.
Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith also criticized the use of canes and said police should not use such force if perpetrators did not react violently.
“Do not forget the word serve the people,” Khieu Kanharith said on Facebook, next to pictures of police holding sticks.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by Ed Davies)