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Rights Groups Call for Activists' Release, as Cambodia Crackdown Continues

  • VOA News

FILE - Garment workers attend a march on the streets to mark International Labor Day in Phnom Penh, May 1, 2013.

FILE - Garment workers attend a march on the streets to mark International Labor Day in Phnom Penh, May 1, 2013.

Rights groups are calling for the release of peaceful activists arrested during a deadly crackdown on a strike by garment factory workers in the Cambodian capital.

Five people were killed and dozens injured last week when security forces moved in on protesters demanding higher wages for workers at the factory in Phnom Penh.

Twenty-three people, including labor rights activists and factory workers, were arrested in the ensuing crackdown, which included a general ban on demonstrations.

Human Rights Watch Thursday called for the immediate, unconditional release of any peaceful protesters. It also slammed Cambodia for holding the group incommunicado without access to proper medical care at a remote prison known for its harsh conditions.

Following days of demands by rights groups and family members, authorities on Wednesday finally allowed access to the prisoners, some of whom were injured during clashes with police.

Lawyers from the Cambodian rights group Licadho say they are preparing to file a request for the release of the detainees on bail.

Meanwhile, unauthorized protests continued Thursday. In the capital, hundreds of police cleared a small group of protesters in a park. One of the protesters, 21-year-old Heng SamnaNg, says security forces should be held accountable for the recent violence.

"We are protesting here to demand, one, to ask authorities to find justice for the victims killed in different police crackdowns, like Mr. Meo Sokchan at the sky bridge protest area, Mrs. Eng Sokhom at the SL Garment Factory protest and many workers killed and injured in the very recent crackdown. And secondly, to organize a new election."

Prime Minister Hun Sen faces a growing challenge to his 28-year rule, both from factory workers demanding higher pay and opposition forces demanding he step down and call a new election because of alleged vote fraud in a July poll.