Two Cambodian women have claimed that they saw prisoners at the Juru immigration detention centre being subjected to physical abuse so severe, that some have even died.
Cambodian newspaper The Cambodia Daily reported that the two women had been repatriated from Malaysia by Cambodian labour rights organisation Central.
One of them said she had worked as a maid in Malaysia for nearly two years before she was arrested earlier this year. She was then sent to Juru.
Having escaped purported physical abuse from her last employer, the woman was however similarly abused at the depot, too.
“At the prison, I was beaten and kicked for not understanding the prison officers well,” she told reporters in an interview last month.
“Others, like the Vietnamese, Thai, Indonesian and Laotian prisoners, were badly tortured,” she said.
“They were pushed hard against the wall or had their heads knocked against the wall. There was an officer called Ma Pon who always punched and kicked us.”
“I witnessed two Cambodians and a Vietnamese girl die at the prison after they were repeatedly hit, kicked and punched in the face and chest. The three were tortured and I found them dead the next morning since we slept in the same block,” she said.
“When I woke up, I tried to wake them, but they were already dead.”
Having some knowledge of the Malay and English language, however, made her ‘useful’ enough and she was spared from worst attacks.
However, the Cambodian Foreign Affairs Ministry has refuted their claims, saying that embassy officials visited Juru recently and were told by the staff there that the claims of abuse were untrue.
"Juru prison rejects the allegations that prisoners were tortured there and that some Cambodians died because of torture," the ministry said in a statement released yesterday, as reported by The Cambodia Daily.
The embassy said that they were also told by Juru staff that of the 33 Cambodians detained there this year, all but two had gone home.
One of the two would be leaving soon, the staff had said, and the other detainee Saing Phlat had died of an unspecified "illness" at a Malaysian hospital on June 23.
One of the women claiming the abuse had also earlier said she was asked to accompany other detainees sent to a local hospital for treatment so that she could translate, and that she saw four more women die there – three Cambodians and one Vietnamese.
“So I witnessed five Cambodians and two Vietnamese die,” she said.
“The torture happened because prisoners didn’t speak Malay, so we didn’t understand them,” she added. “Me, I could speak some English so I was luckier than others.”
The second woman said she ended up at Juru after fleeing her likewise abusive employer and corroborated the other woman’s account of the physical abuse inside the detention depot.
Conditions at detention depots in Malaysia are known for their poor conditions and Juru in particular is notorious with previous claims of deaths at the hands of depot staff.
Malaysiakini has contacted both Immigration Department director-general Mustafar Ali and the Cambodian embassy in Malaysia and is awaiting confirmation on the matter.