The Phnom Penh Municipal Court issued a subpoena last Friday to question the president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Union over allegations of defamation.
Chhorn Sokha is to be questioned on Friday about allegations made by Chea Soeun, president of the Sino Nature Garment Factory in Phnom Penh and an adviser to Senate President Chea Sim, that Chhorn Sokha cursed Chea Soeun.
Court Deputy Prosecutor Nget Sarath said Sunday that no charges were planned yet, pending further investigation into the factory’s claims. Chea Soeun’s lawyer, Sar Samnang, said Chhorn Sokha directly cursed his client during a workers’ strike two weeks ago. She allegedly accused Chea Soeun of not being the real “okhna,” a term that refers to a special status granted to businessmen by the government.
Chea Soeun refutes the claim, saying he has been given official okhna status, Sar Samnang said.
Chhorn Sokha admitted that she helped organize a strike from Dec 6 to Dec 18 in front of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor and the US Embassy because workers had not been paid for two days in November and were upset about working conditions. She denied the defamation allegation. “I led the strike because I am president of the union,” Chhorn Sokha said. “I did my work, and they accused me of defaming him [Chea Soeun]. I never knew him before, and I don’t have any conflicts with him.”
Chhorn Sokha said she is worried about being arrested when she appears for questioning. She said the union would protest the court if she is arrested. She said the factory suspended four workers on Dec 17 without just cause and is guilty of creating a company union to dissuade workers from legitimately organizing.
Sar Samnang declined comment on the allegations.
It is unclear whether Chhorn Sokha will be treated fairly by the law, said Jason Judd a union advocate for the American Center for International Labor Solidarity. Management was likely using the warrant to suppress the union president, Judd said.
Dozens of “phony” unions have been created to serve management, Judd said. They use blank sign-up pages or empty promises of cash or political support to dissuade workers from rallying behind legitimate unions.