The Phnom Penh Municipal Court delayed Friday the trial of 23 unionists and striking garment workers by one week.
Rights workers said the court’s move was politically motivated because unionists have called for a “stay-at-home strike” after the Khmer New Year holiday ends Wednesday, April 16. A trial during a strike could inflame emotions.
The court was originally supposed to try the men in three separate hearings on April 18. Now, they are to be tried April 25 on the same charges—causing violence and damage. The men were beaten and detained during lethally suppressed strikes on Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Street in January.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said he believes the decision was made after opposition CNRP leader Sam Rainsy failed to meet King Norodom Sihamoni Friday with Prime Minister Hun Sen. The two political leaders held talks on how to end a political deadlock that has seen the opposition stage protests and boycott the National Assembly.
The meeting did not go ahead because Mr. Rainsy’s deputy, Kem Sokha, is abroad.
“But it is just an excuse,” Mr. Sam Ath said. “From the beginning, these cases basically were politically motivated, because the workers just staged peaceful protests for minimum wage.”
“Then, they were shot at and killed and injured,” he said. “The gunmen should have been arrested and prosecuted, but the striking garment workers have been charged and imprisoned. The police’s investigation also linked the striking garment workers to the opposition party’s protest at Freedom Park.”
He cited a separate decision to reschedule cases of four people rounded up during a labor protest at Stung Meanchey bridge in November. They will now also be tried on April 25.
Presiding Judge Chhe Virak, who will hear one of the three Veng Sreng cases, declined to comment.
Kem Socheat, a Community Legal Education Center lawyer defending Vorn Pao, a union leader and one of the accused, said he was sent a letter from prosecutor Ly Sophanna with the date change, but given no reason for it.
Mr. Rainsy alluded to the Veng Sreng shootings on Friday when he addressed supporters in Kompong Speu province, saying that the garment workers had simply been demanding a pay rise.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said it was just Mr. Sam Ath’s opinion. “If he feels one thing to protect those people…help them get good lawyers to challenge the court,” he said.
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