Sixteen unions threatened Monday to organize a nationwide strike if the 21 activists and protesters jailed following garment industry protests on January 2 and 3 are not released on bail Tuesday.
The unions also called for charges against the 21 prisoners, 16 of whom began a hunger strike in prison on Sunday, and two other prisoners released on bail Saturday, to be dropped.
“Local unions and national-level unions have agreed that if there is no release [of the 21] and no increase in pay for workers in the coming days we will hold a nationwide strike,” said Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association.
“If they do not clear the 23 [of charges] and increase workers’ pay to $160, we will…set an agenda and inform relevant authorities about our nationwide strike,” he said.
Following the meeting, more than 100 union representatives and supporters, led by a group of about 20 monks, marched along Phnom Penh’s Sisowath Quay at about midday to the Preah Ang Dongkor shrine in front of the Royal Palace where they released balloons on behalf of the 23 who were jailed.
The march was scheduled to continue to foreign embassies in the city to hand-deliver petitions but, after releasing the balloons, the protesters dispersed for lunch and to avoid the mid-day heat.
“Since it is hot this afternoon we need to break up our group into small groups to hand the petition” to the embassies, said Ath Thon, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Unions.
Sor Mora, president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation, said the petitions were eventually delivered to the U.S., Australian and French embassies and the European Union delegation later in the afternoon.
Earlier Monday morning, about 100 members of the Boeng Kak community and 20 monks also gathered outside the Ministry of Justice and Court of Appeal to demand the release of the protest prisoners.
Though security guards closed the ministry’s gate, well-known anti-eviction activist and Boeng Kak representative Tep Vanny and two other women were allowed inside to submit a petition calling for the prisoner’s release, before the group walked to the nearby Court of Appeal to also deliver a petition there.
“If the Justice Ministry is a real ministry and is not fake…I believe [the detainees] will receive justice tomorrow,” Ms. Vanny said.
Internationally, unions in 22 countries were also scheduled to present letters to Cambodian embassies Monday calling for the prisoners to be freed.
Leonie Guguen, communications officer at IndustriALL Global Union, one of the unions organizing the action, said by email that letters had already been delivered to Cambodia’s embassies in Japan, South Korea and Indonesia, with over 300 union members “taking action” in Jakarta.
(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers and Hul Reaksmey)