Cambodia: End the prosecution of 23 workers and human rights defenders

Paris, Phnom Penh, 24 April 2014 – The Cambodian government must drop all charges on the 23 garment workers and human rights defenders arrested during the 2-3 January brutal suppression of demonstrators in Phnom Penh which resulted in at least four people killed and dozens injured, FIDH and its member organizations Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO) said today. The trial of the 23 is set to begin at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on 25 April.

Cambodia’s judiciary must end this baseless prosecution of garment workers and human rights defenders who have been severely beaten, arbitrarily arrested, and detained for several months for peacefully demonstrating to demand an adequate minimum wage,

said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.

On January 2-3, security forces arrested 23 people during a violent suppression of striking garment workers at two separate locations in Phnom Penh. Workers were demanding that the government increase the monthly minimum wage for garment and footwear workers from US$100 to US$160. Among those detained were: Vorn Pov, President of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economic Association (IDEA); Theng Savuen, Coordinator of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC); and Chan Puthisak, a human rights defender from the Boeung Kak Lake community. They were all charged with committing acts of violence and causing damage with aggravating circumstances.

At least one of those detained is in need of urgent medical treatment. Despite suffering from serious kidney ailments, Vorn Pov was denied bail on four occasions between 13 January and 4 April. He and 20 other protestors were detained in the remote Correctional Center 3 (CC3) prison in Kampong Cham Province. On 8 February, Bou Sarith and Yon Sok Chea, two of the 23 protestors, were released on bail from CC3 and Kampong Cham prison respectively.

The prosecution of the 23 peaceful protestors is deeply troubling because it is just another example of Cambodia’s judiciary lack of independence. The government has detained the 23 for months to use them as political pawns in negotiations with the opposition. Foreign governments and donors must condemn Hun Sen’s administration and urge that all charges against the 23 be dropped and that they be immediately released,

urged LICADHO Director Naly Pilorge.

FIDH, ADHOC, and LICADHO also call on the Cambodian authorities to thoroughly investigate the disappearance of Khem Sophath, a 16-year-old boy who has been missing since the 3 January violence perpetrated by state security forces near the Canadia Industrial Park in southwest Phnom Penh. Khem Sophath was last seen on the morning of 3 January lying on the ground on Veng Sreng Road. His chest was covered in blood, which could have been the result of a gunshot wound. More than three months later, his fate or whereabouts remain unknown.

This trial only fuels a sense of injustice among Cambodia’s workers. Twenty-three peaceful protestors face prison terms, another four are dead, and a young boy is missing. But those responsible for the deadly violence remain at large and it’s highly unlikely they will ever be brought to justice,

said ADHOC President Thun Saray.

Press contacts
FIDH: Mr. Arthur Manet (French, English, Spanish) - Tel: +33 6 72 28 42 94 (Paris)
FIDH: Ms. Audrey Couprie (French, English, Spanish) - Tel: +33 6 48 05 91 57 (Paris)

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