News / Asia

Cambodia: Bail Denied for Activists Arrested During Labor Protest

Protesters gather outside the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh, Feb. 11, 2014. (Robert Carmichael/VOA)
Protesters gather outside the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh, Feb. 11, 2014. (Robert Carmichael/VOA)
Robert Carmichael
Cambodia’s Appeals Court on Tuesday rejected a request for bail by 21 people who have been held in custody for more than a month. The defendants were arrested following last month’s garment sector protests in which security forces shot dead at least four people and injured dozens more. Rights groups have condemned the ruling.
 
The defendants are charged with intentional violence and destruction of property.

Their plight prompted protests in recent weeks at some Cambodian embassies overseas. International rights groups and unions have also expressed support for those arrested.
 
None of the 21 defendants was brought to court by the authorities for the hearing. Judges barred the media and monitors from entering the courtroom.
 
In rejecting their application for bail, the Appeals Court told defense lawyers that their clients would not be released because they were deemed a flight risk, or alternatively, that freeing them could jeopardize public order.
 
Speaking outside the court after the ruling, defense lawyer Sam Sokung condemned the decision, which he said breached not only Cambodian law but also the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, known as the ICCPR.
 
“As the lawyers we feel so sad when I hear the judge decide like this because it is [an] injustice to my clients," he told reporters. " It is not good because the decision violates the law - the Article 203 and 205 - and the ICCPR also.”
 
Human rights

In recent months Cambodia’s rights record has worsened considerably following July’s general election, which the authoritarian ruling party won by a surprisingly narrow margin. A general ban on public gatherings remains in effect.

At the U.N. Human Rights Council's meeting in Geneva late last month, a Cambodian official responded to numerous criticisms of the rights situation by insisting that the measures the government had taken were necessary to maintain stability and to prevent damage to property.
 
The garment sector protests have taken on a distinctly political tinge: many workers support the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which ahead of last year’s ballot pledged to increase the minimum wage to $150. The opposition has strongly supported the workers’ demands.
 
On Tuesday, rights groups condemned the court’s decision as a farce.
 
In a statement, Ou Virak, who heads the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the appellate ruling came despite serious concerns about the health of some of the 21 defendants.
 
Ou Virak said the decision to deny bail showed the entire episode was nothing less than an effort by the government to silence its critics using a pliant judiciary. He decried the ruling as an attack on freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.

Garment industry

Cambodia’s garment industry is the country’s key foreign exchange earner - worth more than $5 billion last year, mostly in exports to the United States and the European Union. The sector is also the country’s biggest formal employer, with 400,000 workers, who make clothes for some of the West’s biggest brands.
 
But wages have not kept pace with inflation, and the number of days lost to strikes has increased as a result. Last year, around one million days were lost - the worst in the sector’s two-decade history.
 
In December, the government ordered the minimum wage increased to $95; many garment workers had expected a rise to $160. They have rejected December’s increase as insufficient.
 
Military police shot dead at least four people during violence in January. Dozens of other people were injured.
 
The authorities have refused to investigate whether the security forces acted unlawfully during the country’s worst clashes involving police in years. Instead, authorities have gone after protesters and rights activists.
 
Appeal

Defense lawyer Sam Sokung said he went to the court clerk immediately after the ruling to file an appeal to the Supreme Court.
 
“But the clerk said we must write the appeal letter to the clerk this afternoon. And [so] I will come again to meet the clerk and appeal to the Supreme Court,” he explained.
 
Prior to the hearing, some of the estimated 200 people gathered outside the court were confident that a number of those imprisoned would be freed. Their optimism was buoyed after another judge on Friday ordered that two of the original 23 defendants be set free.
 
In response to Tuesday’s ruling, eight garment sector unions said they will decide Wednesday how best to respond. Late last week those same unions threatened a nationwide strike unless all of the defendants were released.

You May Like

How to Safeguard Your Mobile Privacy

As the digital world becomes more mobile, so too do concerns about eroding privacy and increased hacking More

'Desert Dancer' Chronicles Iranian Underground Dance Troupe

Film by Richard Raymond is based on true story of Afshin Ghaffarian and his friends More

Obesity Poses Complex Problem

Professor warns of obesity’s worldwide health impact More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam Wari
X
Katherine Gypson
May 25, 2015 1:32 AM
For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.
Video

Video Iowa Family's Sacrifice Shaped US Military Service for Generations

Few places in America have experienced war like Waterloo. This small town in the Midwest state of Iowa became famous during World War II not for what it accomplished, but what it lost. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the legacy of one family’s sacrifice is still a reminder today of the real cost of war for all families on the homefront.
Video

Video On Film: How Dance Defies Iran's Political Oppression

'Desert Dancer' by filmmaker Richard Raymond is based on the true story of a group of young Iranians, who form an underground dance troupe in the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the latest in a genre of films that focus on dance as a form of freedom of expression against political oppression and social injustice. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Turkey's Ruling Party Trying to Lure Voters in Opposition Stronghold

Turkey’s AK (Justice and Development) Party is seeking a fourth successive general election victory, with the goal of securing two-thirds of the seats in Parliament to rewrite the constitution and change the country's parliamentary system into a presidential one. To achieve that, the party will need to win seats in opposition strongholds like the western city of Izmir. Dorian Jones reports.
Video

Video Millions Flock to Ethiopia Polls

Millions of Ethiopians cast their votes Sunday in the first national election since the 2012 death of longtime leader Meles Zenawi. Mr. Meles' party, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, is almost certain of victory again. VOA's Anita Powell reports from Addis Ababa.
Video

Video Scientists Testing Space Propulsion by Light

Can the sun - the heart of our solar system - power a spacecraft to the edge of our solar system? The answer may come from a just-launched small satellite designed to test the efficiency of solar sail propulsion. Once deployed, its large sail will catch the so-called solar wind and slowly reach what scientists hope to be substantial speed. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video FIFA Trains Somali Referees

As stability returns to the once lawless nation of Somalia, the world football governing body, FIFA, is helping to rebuild the country’s sport sector by training referees as well as its young footballers. Abdulaziz Billow has more from Mogadishu.
Video

Video With US Child Obesity Rates on the Rise, Program Promotes Health Eating

In its fifth year, FoodCorps puts more than 180 young Americans into 500 schools across the United States, where they focus on teaching students about nutrition, engaging them with hands-on activities, and improving their access to healthy foods whether in the cafeteria or the greater community. Aru Pande has more.
Video

Video Virginia Neighborhood Draws People to Nostalgic Main Street

In the U.S., people used to grow up in small towns with a main street lined by family-owned shops and restaurants. Today, however, many main streets are worn down and empty because shoppers have been lured away by shopping malls. But in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia, main street is thriving. VOA’s Deborah Block reports it has a nostalgic feel with its small restaurants and unique stores.

VOA Blogs