Municipal Court Questions Arrested Union Head

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday began questioning union leader Seang Rithy, who was arrested outside a garment factory in Pur Senchey district on Tuesday while leading what police said was an illegal strike.

Mr. Rithy, who heads the Cambodian Labor Solidarity Union Federation, was brought before deputy municipal court prosecutor Meas Chanpiseth in the morning and afternoon for questioning but ultimately was not charged.

Union leader Seang Rithy, in handcuffs, who was arrested Tuesday for transporting bamboo poles to a strike outside a factory in Phnom Penh, is escorted by a plainclothes police officer after being questioned at the municipal court Wednesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Union leader Seang Rithy, in handcuffs, who was arrested Tuesday for transporting bamboo poles to a
strike outside a factory in Phnom Penh, is escorted by a plainclothes police officer after being questioned at
the municipal court Wednesday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The union leader was instead transferred back into the custody of municipal police Wednesday evening to await further questioning today, according to Bun Sathya, chief of the municipal police’s serious crimes bureau.

Leaving the municipal court in the morning, Mr. Rithy, whose union specializes in leading protests, said he had only been supporting workers at the Apsara Garment Factory who are demanding a $28 per month pay raise.

“Such an accusation is wrong because my union workers and I did not commit any violence against the factory,” Mr. Rithy said, denying that 51 bamboo poles he was arrested with were intended to be used for violent purposes.

“The court officials asked me ‘Why did I transport my bamboo there?’ I told them I just wanted to take it for poles for banners and flags,” he said. “The factory and authorities took an excuse from this point to arrest me.”

At a press conference called by the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) in the afternoon, Apsara Garment Factory managing director Khov Chhay said his factory had lost more than $30,000 since Friday due to the strike action.

Mr. Chhay also claimed Mr. Rithy’s violent intent could be established by a threatening social media post the union leader “shared” on Facebook, which Mr. Chhay showed to reporters on his smartphone during the press conference.

“Mr. Seang Rithy wrote ‘It is a gift for Meak Bochea day for the gangsters operating in the factory,’” Mr. Chhay said.

Mr. Chhay said the post, a photo of the bamboo sticks, was made by Lor Sopheak, Mr. Rithy’s deputy, and then “shared” by Mr. Rithy, who added the threatening text.

No such post existed on Mr. Rithy’s page Wednesday evening, and Mr. Sopheak claimed that the photo was only ever posted online without any text.

Mr. Sopheak acknowledged that his union was not registered to operate at the Apsara Garment Factory, but said it had been called in by the striking workers for help.

“We will request the Ministry of Labor as soon as possible to register our union at the factory,” he said.

GMAC also released a statement Wednesday refuting union claims that factory owners and authorities have colluded to use the courts to have dissenting workers fired or arrested.

Last week, the Collective Union of Movement of Workers said factories illegally fired dozens of local representatives last year and accused the courts of siding with the factories.

In its statement, GMAC went on to criticize the growing number of unions in the country—claiming there are now 4,000—and said they were to blame for the “fragile state of the garment industry.”

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