As Verdicts Loom in 25 Protest Related Cases, Acquittals Sought

Verdicts will be handed down Friday in two garment protest-related cases that rights groups say were built on a weak body of evidence.

The two cases occurred months apart but followed a similar narrative: Garment workers fed up with their calls for a higher monthly minimum wage took to the streets. Rocks were then thrown in violent clashes with armed police, who ended up shooting bystanders or the protesting workers dead.

One of the clashes took place in Stung Meanchey on November 12, where police shot dead seller Eng Sokhom during a protest by SL Garment workers and arrested Men Sok Sambath, then 14, and Vanny Vanan, 17.

Then on January 2 and 3, the military police shot dead at least five protesters during garment strikes while 23 unionists, workers and bystanders were arrested and accused of violence and property damage.

Naly Pilorge, the director of local rights group Licadho, said the 23 defendants had been presumed guilty by authorities all along.

“When they were arrested, there was a presumption of guilt and they have to prove their innocence,” Ms. Piloge said.

In separate statements, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights and Adhoc called for the men’s acquittal.

“The trials were marked by a lack of evidence presented by the prosecution,” Adhoc said. “What evidence was produced was accepted unquestionably by the trial judges, who appeared at times to be outright hostile to the defense.”

CCHR said its monitoring of the trial “revealed a complete lack of any incriminatory evidence, serious concerns relating to the independence of the court, repeated violations of the defendants’ fair trial rights and the immediate need for medical care for some of the detainees.”

As for the teenagers implicated in the Stung Meanchey case, Ms. Pilorge summed up their predicament as “one of the saddest” and a case of “mistaken identity.”

“They need to be released tomorrow,” she said.

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