About 100 activists from three Phnom Penh communities on Friday called for the release of 21 unionists, garment workers and rights activists detained after a series of strikes in January. Some of them are to be tried next month.
The protest was held as it emerged that the trial of 13 of the detainees is to be held April 18, according to a lawyer from rights group Licadho.
“The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has scheduled on April 18 to hear only the case of 13 people arrested in relation to the incident on Veng Sreng Street, but we haven’t received any information about the trial scheduled for Vorn Pao’s group,” said San Sokunthea, who is representing three of the detained, in reference to the leader of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association.
“For the three clients I defend, I hope the Phnom Penh Municipal Court will drop the charges, because my three clients have done nothing wrong,” she said, referring to Bou Sarith, 27, and Yon Chea, 17, who were released on bail in February, and Sy Sarath, who remains in prison.
In all, 23 people were rounded up, beaten and detained over a two-day period in January as garment workers went on strike in support of an increase of the minimum wage to $160 per month. Five people were shot dead.
The 23 have been charged with causing intentional violence with aggravating circumstances and intentional damage with aggravating circumstances, contempt and public disorder. These crimes could see them jailed for up to five years and fined up to $2,500.
Presiding Judge Leang Sam Nat, who will try the 13 men, declined to comment when reached by phone Friday.
Outside the Ministry of Justice, Supreme Court and Royal Palace on Friday, activists from Boeng Kak lake, Borei Keila and Thma Korl lit incense and sang songs, calling on the institutions to release the detainees and lift the charges “because they are innocent.”
“We ask King Norodom Sihamoni to intervene to help release the 21 since the King provides cool shade under which people can take shelter,” said Boeng Kak activist Tep Vanny. “We are your sons and daughters, but when we have a problem, you stay silent.”
“The King has to do something in order to help the 21 imprisoned, since they are innocent and their families rely on them to support their livelihoods.”