The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Thursday charged an independent union leader with making a threat accompanied by extortion after he was arrested with 51 bamboo poles while leading a strike of about 100 garment workers on Tuesday.
Deputy municipal prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth said Seang Rithy, head of the Cambodian Labor Solidarity Union Federation, was charged following two days of questioning after he was apprehended outside the Apsara Garment factory in Pur Senchey district.
“We charged him with [making a] threat accompanied by extortion following Article 232 of the Criminal Code,” Mr. Chanpiseth said.
According to Article 232 of the Criminal Code, Mr. Rithy faces six months to two years in jail and a fine of up to 4 million riel (about $1,000) if found guilty of the charges.
Mr. Chanpiseth would not say what type of threat or extortion Mr. Rithy stands accused of making during the protest, in which workers were calling for 11 demands, including a $28 salary increase for all workers.
At a press conference on Wednesday, however, Apsara Garment managing director Khov Chhay showed reporters a Facebook post he said Mr. Rithy had used to threaten factory management with a photo of the bamboo sticks.
Lor Sopheak, deputy head of Mr. Rithy’s union, said the charges against his colleague were designed to scare the workers.
“The court has decided to charge my union leader by making an excuse that he incited the workers to join the strike and planned to make violence against the factory,” Mr. Sopheak said.
The secretary-general of the union, Chan Veasna, said the workers had been asked to end their strike Thursday in an attempt to secure Mr. Rithy’s release from prison.
Mr. Chhay, the managing director, said he is still considering whether to drop the complaint against Mr. Rithy.
“We have not decided whether to drop our complaint against the union yet,” Mr. Chhay said, adding that if workers strike for more than six days, “the company has the right to accuse them to make them give up their jobs.”