Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday said he believed three unionists sentenced over mass workers’ strikes that turned violent in late 2013 and 2014 were innocent.
The unionists were given sentences of two and a half years following the protests on Veng Sreng Boulevard in December 2013 which led to the deaths of at least five garment workers and bystanders.
Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, and Chea Mony, the former Free Trade Union leader, each served time for their role in organizing the strikes.
During a meeting with garment workers in Kompong Speu town on Wednesday, Hun Sen said: “I dare to claim because I follow this issue that the three people were not involved... I have proof that those three were not involved.”
However, despite having “proof” of the trio’s innocence, he called on them to “find evidence to prove their innocence” and present it to the courts.
He added that two people would be able to testify on the behalf of the three union leaders: Keo Remy, president of the Cambodia Human Rights Committee, and Soy Sopheap, the general director of the Deum Ampel newspaper.
During the protests in January 2014, the government deployed an elite special forces unit against the demonstrators. Military police were also deployed and at least five people were confirmed to have been killed in the ensuing crackdown.
Numerous others were seriously injured and 23 human rights activists were jailed.
In response to Hun Sen’s comments, Thorn said he would file an appeal on Wednesday. Sina also said he had an alibi for the period in question. VOA could not reach Mony on Wednesday
On Tuesday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court gave the six unionists, including the three mentioned by Hun Sen, a suspended sentence and ordered them to pay a fine of $1,250.
The other unionists involved in the court case -- Rong Chhun, former National Election Committee member, Yang Sophoan, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions and Morm Nhim, president of National Independent Federation of Textile Unions of Cambodia -- were not mentioned by Hun Sen in his speech.
Chhun said he was “surprised” at the comments from Hun Sen, which he said showed that the municipal court “did not really investigate the matter.”
Ly Sophana, the court spokesman, said that if the defendants were unhappy with the verdict they could appeal.
Remy of the human rights committee could not be reached for comment, but Sopheap of the Deum Ampil newspaper said he would “abide by [Hun Sen’s] recommendation”.