Twenty-five unionists, garment workers and bystanders were found guilty by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday for their involvement in three separate garment protest-related cases, but were handed down suspended sentences. The 22 men who had not been bailed ahead of trial were ordered released from prison.
The first case related to a protest on November 12, 2013, when two teenagers were arrested after lingering near the fringes of an SL Garment Factory protest in Stung Meanchey. In early January, 23 unionists and garment workers participating in garment strikes were also arrested and summarily jailed.
The trials of those arrested in January were split in two: 10 people rounded up outside the South Korean-owned Yakjin factory were tried together, while 13 men were tried after being arrested on Veng Sreng Street on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
Presiding Judge Keo Mony acquitted six of the 10 arrested at Yakjin of the charges of aggravated property destruction, but upheld the charge of causing violence for all the men. He meted out sentences ranging from between two-and-a-half to four-and-a-half years in jail. Four of the men were handed fines of 8 million riel each.
In the Veng Sreng courtroom, Presiding Judge Leang Samnath upheld all the charges but handed down suspended sentences of between one and four years to the defendants, one of whom was absent from the hearing.
Down the hall, Presiding Judge Suos Sam Ath also upheld the charges of aggravated intentional violence, damage to public property, insulting civil servants and opposing civil servants. Men Sok Sambath, 15, had already been bailed and was told he was sentenced to time already served. Vanny Vannan, 19, was sentenced to three years including time served, which was immediately suspended.
“It’s an injustice,” he said as he was led away. “I am innocent—I did not commit the crime as charged by the court.”
After the verdicts were rendered, there were jubilant scenes outside the court as supporters hugged each other and shouted, “We have been successful!”
Prak Sovannary, whose husband, labor leader Vorn Pao, was arrested at Yakjin in January, said she had mixed feelings about the outcome of her husband’s ordeal.
“Today I am happy, but on some points, I am not happy, because my husband was still sentenced by the court, even though he did not commit the crime.”
(Reporting by Khy Sovuthy, Khuon Narim and Kuch Naren)