Twenty-one labor activists and garment workers were on Wednesday transferred from Kompong Cham province’s Correctional Center 3 to Prey Sar prison in Phnom Penh as the municipal court prepares to try them over their role in garment strikes three months ago.
CC3 director Kea Sovanna said the 21 were removed from the remote prison—in which the detainees have been held without bail since January 2 and 3—early Wednesday and transported to Prey Sar prison’s Correctional Center 1.
“We have transported 21 detainees through vehicles from the general department of prisons at 6 a.m. to Phnom Penh so they could attend a hearing,” he said.
The transfer came a day after the head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia expressed concern that the detainees may not be taken to their trials.
Pin Chany, a CC1 prison officer, said the detainees arrived at about 10 a.m.
Outside the prison, about 30 relatives and supporters lit incense and released 23 balloons, which represented all the activists who were rounded up during the strikes. Two were later released on bail.
Prak Sovannary, whose labor activist husband Vorn Pao has been suffering from ill health due to a kidney operation shortly prior to his incarceration, called for the release of the detainees.
“My husband remains in pain from his illness,” she said after being allowed inside to visit him.
“He told me that he is committed to face the hearing and tell the court that he committed no wrongdoing.”
The 23 men are charged with incitement, causing intentional violence and intentionally destroying public property.
Activist monk Luon Sovath said the court needed to drop the charges.
“They have just been activists to protect human rights,” he said.
This call was echoed by rights group Adhoc, which said in a statement: “The 23 were the victims, violated by the government’s armed forces during a peaceful demonstration to demand a higher minimum wage of $160.”
Five people were shot dead when military police opened fire on strikers protesting along the factory-lined Veng Sreng Street.
“During the crackdown, the 23 had no weapons in their hands,” the statement said. “While the government has violated the law…the court and prosecutors did not open an investigation.”