NGOs Continue to March to ‘Free the 23’

On their third day of petitioning for the release of 23 activists and striking workers who were imprisoned earlier this month following minimum wage demonstrations, a group of civil society representatives marched to seven embassies in Phnom Penh on Thursday.

Thursday’s march began with about 40 participants and grew to include about 100 civil society representatives.

“We advised people not to use insulting words, or words that affect people’s feelings,” said Nay Vanda, Adhoc’s deputy head of human rights monitoring, who has helped organize the petition drive.

“We just used words calling for the release of the detainees,” he said.

Thursday’s march was led by Thida Khus, executive director of the training NGO Silaka, and Ros Sopheap, executive director of the Gender and Development for Cambodia.

The marchers delivered a petition endorsed by 181 Cambodian and international civil society organizations, which called on foreign embassies to press for the release of the 23 prisoners.

“The arrests were not in accordance with Cambodian law and regulations and were conducted by the armed forces with extreme brutality,” the petition states.

“Some individuals were badly beaten and left without access to needed medical treatment for several days and remain in serious condition,” it adds.

“Their release from custody without conditions is now an urgent matter of international humanitarian concern.”

“We now urge that—if you have not done so already—you bring your concerns over this issue to the attention of the Royal Government of Cambodia.”

Despite a ban on public demonstrations, municipal authorities did not obstruct Thursday’s march. Traffic police moved ahead of the protesters to usher them through intersections.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the march was allowed to go ahead because “they didn’t cause any public disorder.”

Beginning at 8:30 a.m. and finishing shortly after 11 a.m., the NGO representatives delivered petitions to the embassies of Germany, Sweden, South Korea, Australia, Russia, Thailand and Malaysia.

Tomorrow, seven NGO representatives will deliver petitions to the embassies of Burma, Singapore and India, Mr. Vanda said.

Among the 23 detainees, 10 were peaceful protesters arrested following clashes with paratroopers outside the Yakjin garment factory on January 2, while another 13 were arrested following stone-throwing with military police in front of the Canadia Industrial Park on January 3, during which the military police killed five and wounded more than 40.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court denied bail to all 23 prisoners this week, citing the need to hold them for questioning and maintain public order.

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