Bribes, beatings and public health
I was walking from my house over the Vietnamese bridge. The police looked at my face and saw that I was a former injecting drug user. Before that, I had been arrested five or six times for “suspicion of drugs”. Basically, I looked like a drug user.
The police usually grab me, tie me up and put me in the truck of their car. They just say that I am a drug user – that’s it – “you are a drug user and you are coming with us.” Some people even get beaten up.
There are usually 20 police officers altogether – 10 motorbikes and 2 trucks. They surround the area so that people can’t run away. These raids usually happen around the holidays... they try to get more money.
They take us to the police station and we spend a day there, in jail. They then ask us for $20-30 dollars, and if we can pay them, they let us out. If not, we are sent to a detention centre for three months. Two people control the room, where 45 people are locked in a very small space. Every day, we have to go out and work in the fields, either in gardens or construction sites. Exercise in the morning for about an hour, and hours of physical labour all day long. We eat rice and watery soup with vegetables, but no meat. No medical attention, no harm reduction services ... You are forced to work, unless you are to physically ill, then they let you stay inside. There is no help or medical attention for people going through withdrawal, they only piss test you. In the detention centres, there are more injecting drug users than ATS users, and homeless and poor people are sent to the centres as well. After three months, we are released with no means of transportation to go back home. So we have to walk back to Phnom Penh - it took me six hours.
I’ve known about Korsang (a harm reduction NGO in Phnom Penh) for about five years and I have been a peer worker there for about seven months. My responsibilities as a peer worker consist of picking up syringes and educating users about safer use, HIV risks, transmission, etc.
I wish that people who are apprehended for drug use could receive medical attention, because many people go through withdrawal. Under the current system, if they are sick, they get beaten up. They should receive proper treatment and their human rights should be respected. Drug users should not be beaten up on the streets. . Even if the police have to arrest them, they should do it respectfully.
The police just beat up a pregnant woman yesterday and she went into early labour. We had to bring her to Korsang and then to the hospital. They are beating up more women now.
This story is taken from a new joint publication between TalkingDrugs and IDPC It looks at young people's experience of current systems of drug control.
You can download the magazine below.