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

Republican Majority in Congress Off to Rough Start

Standoff over Homeland Security funding exposes philosophical, tactical problems within party More

Pakistan Blocks Baloch Activist from US Trip

Human Rights Commission of Pakistan slams Islamabad officials for stopping people from leaving country to attend human rights conference More

Video Muslims Long Thrived in North Carolina Before Students Killed

Idyll shattered February 10, when three Muslim university students living in Chapel Hill were gunned down by a neighbor More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Studentsi
X
Jerome Socolovsky
March 05, 2015 9:04 PM
The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Muslims Long Thrived in N Carolina Before Slaying of 3 Students

The killings of three Muslim students in North Carolina early last month came as Muslims across the United States have felt under siege, partly as a result of terrorist attacks being committed internationally in the name of their faith. But Muslims have long thrived in university cities in this part of the American South. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.
Video

Video Volunteer Gauge-Watchers Help Fine-Tune Weather Science

An observation system called CoCoRaHS is working to improve weather science, thanks to thousands of volunteers across the country who measure precipitation in their own backyards, then share their data through the Internet. VOA's Shelley Schlender reports.
Video

Video NASA Spacecraft Approaches a Dwarf Planet

NASA’s Dawn spacecraft will make history on Friday, March 6, when it becomes the first man-made object to orbit a dwarf planet named Ceres. It is located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, almost 500 million kilometers from Earth. Among other objectives, Dawn will try to examine two mysterious bright white spots detected on the planet’s surface. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Muslims Radicalized Online

Young Muslims are being radicalized ‘in their bedrooms’ through direct contact with Islamic State or ISIL fighters via the Internet, according to terror experts. There are growing concerns that authorities and Internet providers are not doing enough to counter online extremism - which analysts say is spread by a prolific network of online supporters around the world. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Positive Messaging Transforms Ethiopia's Image

Ethiopia was once known for famine and droughts. Now, headlines more often point to its fast-growing economy and its emergence as a regional peacemaker. How has Addis Ababa changed the narrative? VOA's Marthe van der Wolf reports.
Video

Video Answers Elude Families of MH370 Passengers

For the families on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, an airline official’s statement nearly one year ago that the plane had lost contact with air traffic control at 2:40 AM is the only thing that remains confirmed. William Ide reports.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More