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Trial of Cambodian Labor Activists Resumes Amid Clashes

An activist of Cambodian National Rescue Party Meach Sovannara, center, gives a speech as he is surrounded by local journalists at a blocked main street near the Phnom Penh Municipality Court during a gathering to call for the release of anti-government protesters who were arrested in a police crackdown, in Phnom Penh, May 20, 2014.
Protesters in Cambodia have clashed outside the Phnom Penh courthouse where the trial of 23 labor activists has resumed.

Hundreds of police and security personnel were deployed Tuesday around the court, where they clashed with demonstrators who want the activists released. At least four people were injured, as supporters attempted to break through police barricades.

The activists are charged with inciting and committing violence during labor demonstrations in January. Ten of them were questioned Tuesday for their roles in protesting outside the Yak Ching garment factory near Phnom Penh.

One of the defendants, Vorn Pov, denied the charges against him. Vorn Pov said he was severely beaten by members of an elite military unit that is blamed for the deaths of five activists during the January violence.

Vorn Pov's wife, Prak Sovannary, said in an interview with VOA's Khmer service that she is relieved the hearings will continue without any more lengthy delays.

“If there is no pressure, my husband and 20 other accused will be found not guilty. I am also delighted that the next hearing is not delayed for two weeks like last time. It will continue tomorrow," said Sovannary.

The trial of the 23 activists has been heavily criticized by rights groups, who say the defendants are being tried to discourage further demonstrations.

Am Sam Ath, lead investigator for the rights group Licadho, said the court has linked this case to politics.

“Seeing this hearing makes me think that justice for the accused is still too far away because this case is based on political situation without taking into account the principle of equality before the law and the principle of justice for everybody," said Ath.

Five people were killed and 40 injured by an elite military unit that fired into a crowd protesting outside Phnom Penh in January. Authorities have refused to investigate whether the security forces acted unlawfully.

The protesters were demanding a doubling of the minimum wage to $160 per month.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.