Anti-eviction activists stepped over flames and watched monks smash ceramic pots at a pre-New Year ceremony in Phnom Penh yesterday, hoping to expel bad luck for 23 men facing trial later this month for their roles in garment protests.
The 23 unionists, activists and garment workers were arrested on January 2 and 3 during protests for higher garment factory wages that ended abruptly when military police shot into a crowd, killing five people and injuring dozens. The 23 men—two have been released on bail—have all been charged with inciting violence and the destruction of public property and are scheduled to be tried on April 25.
“After the Khmer New Year we want the government to lead the country with merit and justice and to serve the country and respect human rights,” said Tep Vanny, one of the activists. “We want the 21 to be freed.”
The 30 participants in the ceremony took turns stepping over a small pot of flames three times each. Afterwards, 23 monks smashed 23 numbered clay pots filled with water—representing the bad luck of the charged men—by throwing them to the ground.
“We consider that the pot with the water represents bad luck, and when we break it the bad luck will evaporate,” said Keo Somaly, one of the monks.
The monks, 25 in all, were members of the Independent Monks Network for Social Justice, a group of activist monks vehemently opposed to many of the current government’s policies and actions.