As it has been widely reportedly, since December 2013, workers from garment factories owned by foreign companies have gone on strike in Cambodia. The workers are demanding an increase of minimum wage for garment workers, from USD80 to USD160 a month, the average cost which the government itself estimated based on its study.
The government’s refusal to implement the increase of minimum wage, the amount of which they have identified a worker could live decently, has resulted in the increasing number of protests. Apart from garment workers and labour leaders, ordinary persons were supportive to the demands of the workers.
On January 2, the protest were violently suppressed by the police, military police and special commandos, resulting in the arrest of ten persons, composed of garment workers, labour leaders, who were urging workers to join the strike at Yakjin Factory in Phnom Penh. For details, please read this. Those arrested were:
Vorn Pao, 39, President of Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA); Theng Saveurn, 24, Coordinator of Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC); Chan Puthisak, 40, Community leader from BoeungKak Lake, works as a glass cutter; Sokun Sombath Piseth, 31, staff at Center for Labor Rights of Cambodia (CLaRi-Cambodia); ChhimTheurn, 26, Garment worker at Yak Jin factory; Yong Som An, 31, Electrician; RethRoatha, 24, Rice mill worker; Nakry Vanda, 19, Garment worker in Kambol; LornSan, 20, Garment worker at GaiNai factory; TengChany, 21, Truck driver and construction worker;
All of them were charged for violations of Article 218 of the Criminal Code, for intentional violence with aggravating circumstances and Article 411, for intentional damage with aggravating circumstances at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
The following day, 3 January, a combination of security forces violently dispersed the peaceful gathering of protestors, including garment workers, labour leaders and the ordinary persons, at the Canadia Industrial Park. The violent dispersal resulted in the deaths of four persons and the wounding of 40 others. For further comments please view this.
On this day, thirteen more persons, including a minor, were arrested. All of them are men, eleven were garment workers and two others were moto-taxi drivers. They were:
Chea Sarath, 34, Moto-taxi driver; Yon Chea, 17, Garment worker at I Khangfactory; BouSarith, 27, Garment worker; Mam Piseth, 23, Garment worker at Canadia Industrial Zone; NemSokhoun, 23, Garment worker; PhangTren, 24, Garment worker at Canadia Industrial Zone; Ry Sinoun, 18, Garment worker at Sin Lian factory; HengRatha, 22, Garment worker at Canadia Industrial Zone; Pang Vanny, 38, Garment worker at Suntex factory; HoenDa, 29, Garment worker at Hong Sin factory; Cheurn Yong, 23, Garment worker; RosSophoan, 25, Garment worker at Ming Yiak factory and ProrSarath, 26, Private motor guard.
Of those arrested, all of the 13 were charged for violations of Article 218 and 411 of the Criminal Code, similar to the charges laid on the ten persons arrested in Yakjin factory; and three of them were additionally charged for violations of Article 502 of the Criminal Code, for insult to public official acting in official capacity; and Article 78 of the Traffic Law, for obstructing the flow of traffic.
Based on the interviews conducted by the team who joined the fact finding mission, from 15 to 18 January, in which the AHRC had participated, both the incidents on the 2nd and 3rd were the result of provocation by the security forces, for the purpose of violently suppressing the workers and labour leaders, from their demands of the increased minimum wage.
Therefore, the AHRC is of the opinion that the charges laid on the 23 detainees, for intentional violence, intentional damage and insult to public official; and for obstructing the traffic, has nothing to do with law enforcement, but rather these laws are being used in suppressing protest and the demands of the workers. For this reason, all the charges on them must be withdrawn and they must be released unconditionally.