Plainclothes Police Arrest Two Unionists at Factory Protest

Plainclothes police grabbed two unionists at a protest outside a garment factory in Kompong Speu province on Tuesday morning, shoving them into an unmarked Toyota Camry and speeding away, union officials said.

Police confirmed that the pair was taken to the provincial court, where they were charged with incitement and intentional violence over protests outside the factory, then sent to the provincial prison.

Moeun Sara, a Free Trade Union (FTU) official, was taking part in the protest, part of a prolonged industrial dispute over the firing of three unionists at the Cerie Garment factory in Samraong Tong district in November.

Mr. Sara said workers had been protesting outside the factory each morning since January 4, calling for the management to comply with a non-binding Arbitration Council decision in December instructing them to rehire the sacked workers.

He said the size of the strike and the accompanying protests had shrunk over the past month as more and more workers returned to their stations for fear of being fired. On Tuesday morning, he said, about 30 workers were still outside the factory when plainclothes police swooped in.

“This morning at 8:15, after we stopped protesting and were preparing to go back home, there were about 10 people wearing normal clothes who came to arrest us, and we ran away, but at that time they arrested two people,” Mr. Sara said, naming the arrested FTU officials as Yong Leap and Touch Srun.

“We don’t know why they came to arrest us like this because we did not commit any crime,” he said.

Provincial deputy police chief Nhem Sao said the unionists were arrested over a complaint from non-striking workers who scuffled with the protesters last month.

“They were arrested for involvement in incitement and intentional violence and we sent them to the court in the morning,” Mr. Sao said, adding in the evening that the pair had been charged and sent to prison to await trial.

Court officials declined to comment on the case.

A man who answered a telephone number listed for factory management said there was no problem at the factory and hung up.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, which counts Cerie among its members, said the FTU had followed legal procedures in the dispute, apart from burning tires during a protest.

“But up to that point, they tried to follow all the legal procedures; the strike only happened after the arbitration ruling,” he said, adding that his association encouraged factory owners to respect such decisions.

Mr. Sara of the FTU said that unionists and workers would protest at the provincial labor department today calling for the release of their colleagues, despite receiving information that nine more protesters were wanted for arrest.

(Additional reporting by Colin Meyn)

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