A Phnom Penh judge has ordered the arrests of two union leaders, charging them with provoking violence in a garment factory strike—charges from which they have already been cleared.
Saying they were a flight risk and could threaten witnesses in the case, Municipal Court Judge Hing Thearith ordered the arrests of Kim Saoun and Sok Bona Monday, after asking them to give depositions about the violence at Tommy Textile Mfg, Co, Ltd on June 14, 2001.
“I have a right to arrest them. If we let them stay out of prison, they can run away or threaten other witnesses,” the judge said.
The judge is also seeking to question union leaders Sang Tha and Ma Los, who were also supposed to give depositions Monday afternoon but fled when they heard of their co-workers’ arrest orders.
All four men are the leaders of the local Cambodia Federation of Independent Trade Unions at the Tommy plant, which manufactures towels for export to the US.
“I want the judge to reconsider the case,” federation President Ros Sok said, speaking at a news conference from union headquarters, which Ma Los and Sang Tha also attended.
The arrests come more than a year after a riot broke out during a strike at the plant.
“It sets a bad precedent. It seriously undermines worker rights,” one US official said. “Overall, it affects the investment and business climate in Cambodia.”
A government panel investigating the strikes last year cleared the four union leaders of wrongdoing, raising concerns even in the government, one Ministry of Labor official said.
But the Ministry of Labor does not decide the law, Hing Thearith said. “The only people who can determine innocence or guilt is a judge,” he said. Suggestions that he is helping to break the union are an “insult,” Hing Thearith said.
Labor activists have forgotten the real victim, Tommy General Manager Ling Feng Sheng said. The June 2001 riot caused nearly $30,000 in damage when workers destroyed machines and stole goods.