Despite Deal, Court Denies Bail to Factory Workers

The Svay Rieng Provincial Court on Tuesday denied bail to four garment workers arrested last month during industrial strife at two special economic zones, court officials said, contravening a deal between the provincial government and unions that brought a peaceful end to a dispute that was costing factory owners millions of dollars a day.

Khuon Ra, a clerk at the provincial court, said bail was denied because an investigating judge had yet to complete his work. Provincial governor Chieng Am, however, said that a request from the Garment Manufacturers’ Association in Cambodia (GMAC) to deny bail had been upheld.

“They cannot be released because GMAC filed a complaint against the bail application,” Mr. Am said. “Trust me, they will be released. The court is still considering it, but we cannot release them now.”

Following a week of strikes and protests, deputy provincial governor Hou Rattanak emerged from a half-day meeting with union leaders and factory representatives on December 22 and told a throng of reporters that a request to release the four on bail in exchange for the unionists calming the situation had been accepted.

He said that the release would need to “follow judicial procedure.”

Pav Sina, head of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, who claimed no involvement in the strikes but was called in to represent the workers in Bavet City, slammed the court’s decision on Tuesday.

“I heard that the intention of the authorities is to deny release so the four learn what it’s like to be in jail and so all workers in Bavet will be scared to protest,” he said.

“They promised and told the media that they would release the four after the workers return to work. They should feel ashamed. It is disrespectful to the people and the workers won’t trust them anymore.”

However, Mr. Sina said that he would not call for a protest in response, as none of the arrested workers are his members.

Though GMAC sat in on the December 22 meeting, its secretary-general, Ken Loo, insisted on Tuesday that he was not aware of any agreement between the provincial government and the unions.

“The factory representatives were not a signatory to any deal,” he said.

Mr. Loo confirmed that GMAC had made a request that the four not be released on bail, citing concern of a “second wave” of industrial action. He said that the original complaint against the workers, of destroying factory property, would stand and made no apologies for their continued detention.

“They have to face action for their criminal behavior, unless of course the unions are above the law,” he said. “We will leave it to the judicial system.”

(Additional reporting by Matt Blomberg)

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