Appeal Court Grants Bail to Jailed Workers

The Court of Appeal on Friday ordered the release of four garment workers arrested during walkouts and riots at two special economic zones in Svay Rieng province in De­cember, overruling a request by the Garment Manufacturers’ As­so­cia­tion in Cambodia (GMAC) to deny them bail, officials said.

The workers—Van Vichet, 24; Paldy Somalyda, 27; Sok Kong, 28; and Chheng Sopha, 35—were ar­rested on December 17 and 18 and jailed on charges of incitement, intentional violence and property damage.

Their initial bail request was rejected last month at the re­quest of GMAC, whose secretary-general, Ken Loo, said at the time that he feared a “second wave” of industrial action at the Tai Seng and Manhattan special economic zones in Bavet City.

The rejection contravened an agreement between the provincial government and unions that brought a peaceful end to the tu­mult that rocked the two industrial parks for nearly a week, sparked by demands for higher wages at the Kingmaker Cambodia factory.

Nguon Rattana, a judge at the Court of Appeal, said he granted bail to the four workers on Friday, but declined to explain his decision. “I announced in the hearing that they should be released,” he said.

Heng Bong, a lawyer for the workers, said her clients traveled to Phnom Penh for the bail hearing, and that Judge Rattana had ex­plained that his decision was based on the recommendation of the Svay Rieng provincial labor de­partment, which argued that the four had not orchestrated the protests.

“The judge decided to release them on bail on the advice of the pro­vincial labor department, which said the four workers joined the protest, but were not leaders of it,” Ms. Bong said.

She said the four were freed on the condition that they stay away from all protests and report to the provincial police headquarters on the first day of each month until their trial, a date for which has not yet been set.

“It’s good they were released on bail because they are just normal workers and they were not in­volved in the violence that happened. Also, one of the four will marry this month,” she added.

Nouth Bopinnaroath, provincial coordinator for rights group Li­cadho, said the workers were ex­pected to be released on Saturday.

The demonstrations in Bavet came to a halt on December 22, after the provincial government agreed to release the arrested workers on bail in exchange for a promise from union leaders—who claimed they were not in­volved in the protests—to pacify the workers and persuade them to return to work.

Kong Chuong, the father of Mr. Vichet, welcomed the news that his son would be released, but maintained that his arrest had been an “injustice.”

“I’m happy to hear this because our family needs him to help with paying for food every day, and he is due to get married on the 26th,” he said.

Mr. Loo of GMAC, who had previously said that the workers should “face action for their criminal behavior,” expressed indifference to their impending release when reached on Friday.

“We’re not even following the procedure on this,” he said. “I didn’t even realize they were to be released on bail until you told me.”

(Additional reporting by George Wright)

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