Court Places More Restrictions on Union Leader

Ath Thorn, the head of the country’s largest independent union, was placed yesterday under judicial supervision by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court a day after he joined demonstrations calling for a $177 monthly minimum wage for garment workers.

Mr. Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (CCAWDU), yesterday became the third un ion leader to be subjected to a court order prohibiting participation in public gatherings until their trial—over charges of causing intentional violence, making threats, destroying property and obstructing traffic—concludes.

No date has been set for the trial.

Mr. Thorn, who is currently embroiled in three separate court cases, was already under orders not to join gatherings or meet with union members, which he seemingly breached by taking part in pro tests at Phnom Penh’s Canadia Industrial Park on Wednesday calling for a $77 increase in the minimum monthly wage of $100.

The latest charges against Mr. Thorn relate to his role in nationwide garment-sector strikes that began on December 25 and reached a bloody conclusion on Veng Sreng Street on January 3, when military police opened fire on rock-throwing protesters, killing five people and wounding dozens more.

Emerging from the court after four hours of questioning yesterday, Mr. Thorn told reporters that he intended to ignore the restrictions placed on him—including a ban on going to Canadia Industrial Park or holding rallies outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court—if they interfered with his union activities.

“If I cannot lead workers or meet with them, then what can I do? As a president of a union, this is serious punishment for me,” he said.

Mr. Thorn added that he was not present on Veng Sreng Street in January when clashes broke out between a group of violent protesters, mostly young men, and police. And he denied that he and the five other union leaders facing charges had incited the violence.

Rights group Licadho and the Cambodian Legal Education Center (CLEC) yesterday released a joint statement calling for a review of the government’s draft law on trade unions, which they said posed an even greater threat to labor associations than the municipal court’s action against the union leaders.

“Draft laws that…threaten to in fringe on peoples’ fundamental rights must be amended through a trans parent and inclusive consultation process or risk creating social and economic instability,” Moeun Tola, head of CLEC’s labor program, said in the statement.

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