(New York) – Cambodian authorities should end the politically motivated prosecution of six trade unionists accused of involvement in violent incidents in January 2014, Human Rights Watch said today. The court summons date, September 12, is five days before unions have scheduled the start of a new campaign for an increase in the minimum wage.
Prosecutors have accused the prominent activists Pav Sina, Chea Mony, Art Thun, Rong Chhun, Mam Nhim, and Yang Sophon of aggravated violence and destruction, threats of destruction, and obstruction of traffic during violent confrontations between protesting workers and factory and government security forces in the Veng Sreng area of Phnom Penh between December 25, 2013, and January 3, 2014. The accused face up to 14 years in prison.
“Cambodian authorities are pursuing trumped-up charges against labor activists in an apparent attempt to get them to abandon demands for better pay and conditions,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “This is just the latest government effort to scare activists and the political opposition into dropping plans to use protests to advance their causes.”
Cambodian workers have made increased wages a central demand of an expanding series of strikes that reached a crescendo in December 2013. The government warned then that it would no longer tolerate widespread industrial unrest. Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered a ban on all demonstrations, including rallies by the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party and civil society gatherings. From January 2, 2014, the army, police, and gendarme units enforced this policy with excessive and unnecessary lethal force. They opened fire with assault rifles and other firearms at demonstrators over two days, killing at least seven people and injuring dozens of others.
The Cambodian government has previously brought baseless charges against workers, activists, and others linked to the protests.
In May, a Phnom Penh court convicted 23 workers and activists and sentenced them to suspended prison terms after holding them in harsh conditions for more than four months. They were accused of responsibility for the January 2-3 violence, even though no evidence was presented to connect any of them to it.
Cambodia’s judiciary lacks independence and serves the interests of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, which Hun Sen leads. No charges have been filed against security force members responsible for killing and wounding the protesters on January 2-3.
“Hun Sen has yet again promised big reforms and claims he has suddenly become aware of the need to resolve long-festering socioeconomic disputes, yet the courts he controls are still being used to persecute activists,” Adams said. “Cambodia’s donors should make it clear that they will not accept another round of politically motivated prosecutions and demand that these cases be dropped.”