Hundreds of Cambodians living in South Korea protested in front of Seoul’s City Hall on Sunday, demanding justice for five garment workers killed in clashes with police on January 3, and calling for Prime Minister Hun Sen to step down.
With public protests indefinitely banned in Cambodia, the demonstration in South Korea was the largest of a number of gatherings and vigils that have been held around the world since state security forces on January 3 opened fire on protesting garment workers, who were armed with rocks and Molotov cocktails.
At Sunday’s demonstration in Seoul, hundreds of Cambodian migrant workers, who organized the protest, were joined by Cambodian university students and Cambodian women married to Korean men, said Tang Kimsruy, 29, a post-graduate university student in Seoul who joined the rally.
“They do a demonstration to call for Cambodian government to take responsibility for what happened last week…and urge Cambodian government to release 23 unionists,” Mr. Kimsruy said. “They also shout strongly for Prime Minister Hun Sen to step down from his position.”
Photographs of the protest posted to Facebook show demonstrators, bundled up in jackets and scarfs in below-zero temperatures, waving Cambodian flags and holding photographs of workers injured by police violence.
Mr. Kimsruy said that the political activism among the community of more than 20,000 migrant workers in South Korea was a natural response to having lived abroad.
“Cambodian workers working in Korea, they get a sense of what is democracy, human rights and their own freedoms. They look back to their own society in Cambodia and see that it doesn’t really have what they have,” Mr. Kimsruy said.
Mi-Kyung Ryu, the international director of the Korean Confederations of Trade Unions, who cooperated in organizing the demonstration, which she said was joined by at least 2,000 protesters, said that South Korea shared responsibility for the brutal suppression of Cambodian workers demanding higher wages.
“We feel that the Korean Embassy there and Korean companies operating in Cambodia are asking the Cambodian government to suppress or quash the demonstrations and strikes for higher minimum wage,” Ms. Ryu said.
“They are squeezing the workers in countries like Cambodia to maximize their profit and reduce labor costs,” she said.