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.

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

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs