Union Leader Speaks Out Over Drug ‘Set-Up’

Suos Sophat was able to spend only half an hour with her little brother yesterday. She spent most of the time clinging to his side, reaching out occasionally to smooth his hair or finger the handcuffs ringing his wrists.

“I don’t have anything to say since a good person is handcuffed,” she said. “Handcuffs are only for bad people.”

Her brother, union representative Suos Chantha, 27, has spent the last month in prison charged with distributing drugs.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court questioned Mr Chantha yesterday–the first time he has been before the court since a brief interview conducted the day after his arrest.

Standing outside the chamber in his regulation prison blues, Mr Chantha was able to speak with reporters about his situation before being led back into pretrial detention.

“This is a harsh accusation. There is someone at my workplace trying to put the blame on me, so that I will be fired from my job,” he said.

Military police arrested Mr Chantha after he left work on Nov 18 for carrying a substance they claim was a drug, but have still not identified. Rights groups, unions and co-workers have all voiced serious concerns regarding the circumstances of the arrest.

Mr Chantha was a representative for the CPP-affiliated Democratic Independent Solidarity Union Federation at the United Apparel garment factory in Sen Sok district. However, he was in negotiations to lead almost 1,000 workers to defect to the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union in the days before his arrest.

“It could be connected [to the proposed defection]. I want to say this is a set-up, but I don’t want to make any conclusions about who did this to me,” Mr Chantha said.

Police claim they spotted Mr Chantha trying to avoid a traffic checkpoint, and pulled him over because he was acting suspicious. Police allegedly discovered the unidentified narcotic hidden in the saddle of his motorbike.

“I just opened my motorbike’s saddle, then I was pulled away from my motorbike. They said there were drugs in my motorbike, but I swear that I never knew about these drugs before,” Mr Chantha said, adding that police pushed and struck him repeatedly during the arrest.

CCAWDU President Ath Thon attended the hearing yesterday to support the young union representative. He claimed Mr Chantha’s arrest was an attack aimed at his organization.

“It is an act of intimidation on union representatives. It is an activity to cause trouble for me,” he said.

Phoung Mountry, DISUF president, has claimed that the workers who planned to defect have now changed their minds, and has repeatedly expressed his support for Mr Chantha while denying that the union had anything to do with his arrest. Mr Mountry was not at the court yesterday.

 

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