Garment Union President in Court Over Incitement Allegations

Ath Thorn, the president of the union that led strikes at the SL Garment Factory last year, appeared before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday for questioning over allegations of incitement.

The Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (CCAWDU), headed by Mr. Thorn, spearheaded months of protests against the management of the SL Factory in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district last year.

A union representative rallies protesting workers from the SL Garment Factory in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday. (John Vink/Magnum)
A union representative rallies protesting workers from the SL Garment Factory in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday. (John Vink/Magnum)

The strikes turned violent on November 12 when police officers armed with pistols and striking workers armed with rocks clashed during a street protest. One woman was killed.

Mr. Thorn said after the questioning Tuesday that the prosecutor had recommended he be charged with inciting the strikes after receiving multiple complaints.

“The investigating judge questioned me after the prosecutor suggested charges for incitement to commit crimes,” Mr. Thorn said. “The factory and one of the workers…said there was rock throwing, resulting in blinding his eye.”

“The victim said that I arrived at the factory and threw rocks,” he said. “The court told me that they are just implementing the court procedures and [the judge] still did not know whether to press charges or drop the charges yet.”

But the union leader denied any responsibility for the events.

“On the day of the incident, we were at our head office and worked as usual,” Mr. Thorn said. “We were not involved in this.”

Mr. Thorn’s lawyer, Kim Socheat, said that the court also laid out the bail conditions Mr. Thorn will face if charged with incitement.

Mr. Socheat said such charges could come within the month.

“[He will have to] show up at the commune police office on the weekend; when the court summons him, he will have to appear at the court, and he will have to deposit $25,000 for bail,” he said.

Deputy municipal prosecutor Ek Chheng Huot declined to comment on the case, referring questions to Judge Chea Sok Heang, who could not be reached.

Koh Chong Ho, general manager for the SL Factory, denied that his factory had lodged a complaint against Mr. Thorn.

Mr. Socheat said that the complaint had been officially lodged by security guards employed at the SL factory.

CCAWDU members finally called off their strike in the beginning of December after SL management agreed to demands including the payment of half of workers’ salaries during the strike and the removal of Meas Sotha, a shareholder blamed for suppressing union activity, from day-to-day operations at the factory.

In a statement Monday, unionized workers at SL said that they had still not been paid the wages promised to them in the strike-ending deal. They also complained that Mr. Sotha is still employing heavy-handed tactics in managing workers at the factory.

dara@cambodiadaily.com

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