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2 Unionists Detained for Alleged Violence in Garment Factory

FILE PHOTO - Ath Thun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union and labor union groups rally for better labor law and working condition, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, May 1, 2017. (Khan Sokummono/VOA Khmer)

They were arrested on May 7 and charged with “intentional violence” under the Penal Code, which carries a prison term of one to three years, and a fine of up to $2,500.

Two representatives of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) have been held in pre-trial detention in Kandal Provincial Prison since last week after they got involved in a fight with members of a ruling-party affiliated union, according to C.CAWDU.

Choub Chanthy, 30, and Phun Sokha, 34, C.CAWDU representatives in garment factory Quint Major Industrial Co., Ltd. (QMI) in Kandal Province's Ang Snuol district, were arrested on May 7 and charged with “intentional violence” under the Penal Code, which carries a prison term of one to three years, and a fine of up to $2,500.

Ath Thorn, president of the independent C.CAWDU, told VOA Khmer on Monday that the conflict occurred when workers approached Choub Chanthy and Pun Sokha to ask how they could best demand that the factory’s ends its practice of only offering short-term contracts, regardless of how many years the laborers had worked there.

As they met to discuss the workers’ complaints, three members of the Khmer Union Federation of Workers Spirit ​(KUFWS), Chaem Neang, Mom Sokear, and Phoeun Sophear, disturbed the gathering and a fight broke out in which all sides were slightly injured, said C.CAWDU in a statement.

Shortly afterward the brawl, military police arrived and arrested four of those involved, they charged Choub Chanthy and Pun Sokha, while releasing two KUFWS members without charge.

The statement stressed that “in this case, those who caused troubles were released, and the representatives of C.CAWDU became the victims and were imprisoned.”

“They should be released on bail immediately because we were not those who caused injuries from the beginning,” Ath Thorn told VOA.

His organization called on National Military Police authorities to release the two representatives without charge and to examine the handling of the case by Ang Snuol District Military Police office.

KUFWS President Mom Seak said the judiciary and law enforcement authorities would find out who was responsible based on a video recording of the incident that supposedly was taken.

“The C.CAWDU side put the blame (on us) because it’s their right and freedom. It’s up to them to say what they want to say. But we rely in everything on the law,” he said, adding, “There is evidence to prove [these] red-handed offenses, so the authorities will work accordingly.”

KUFWS is seen by independent labor groups as affiliated with the ruling Cambodian People Party (CPP). Mom Seak’s Facebook page features a photo of a document showing he is the vice chair of a CPP working group in a district of Prey Veng Province and he is reportedly also an advisor to Minister of Interior Sar Kheng.

Eng Hy, spokesman for the National Military Police, and QMI Company representatives could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

International labor rights groups and human rights activists have long called for better working conditions of Cambodia’s large garment workers force and an end to the oppression of independent unions, whose leaders and local representatives regularly face legal threats from authorities.

Ath Thorn and two other union leaders were given a suspended prison sentence in December last year for their alleged role in demonstrations against the contested 2013 general elections results, demonstrations were met with deadly violence by government forces.

Soon after the conviction, Prime Minister Hun Sen addressed a crowd of garment workers during which he told his ministers to ease pressure on the union leaders. The premier has been publicly courting the garment workers ever since the 2013 polls.

Reuters reported in November last year that some 50 other union leaders also faced charges over labor strikes.