A group of 21 detainees who have been held at Kampong Cham’s remote CC3 prison since they were arrested during garment worker protests in early January were transported to the capital yesterday morning ahead of their hearings at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday, dampening fears they would not be able to attend their own trials.
Kea Sovanna, director of the CC3 prison, said he had received an order from the director of the prisons department at the Ministry of Interior to bring all the detainees to Phnom Penh yesterday, where they would be held at Prey Sar prison.
“I do not know if they will be sent back [to CC3],” he said, adding it would depend on the court’s decision.
Twenty-three people in total were arrested on January 2 and 3 as workers calling for a higher minimum wage clashed with authorities outside the Yakjin garment factory and the Canadia Industrial Park. All of the detainees have been charged with aggravated intentional violence and aggravated intentional property destruction.
Two of the 23 were released on bail, but the other 21’s requests were denied despite numerous appeals.
Prak Sovannary, the wife of Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) president Vorn Pov, who has been denied bail four times, said yesterday that she was happy he would finally be able to defend himself in court.
“I would like to implore the court officers to consider the facts and judgment based on legal procedure to provide justice for the 21 detainees because they did not do what they are accused of,” she said.
Rights groups have repeatedly called for the charges against the 23 to be dropped.
“The government is keeping the 23 hostage as leverage to get the CNRP [into] the National Assembly . . . they will not be free until the political deadlock is resolved,” Moeun Tola, labour head at the Community Legal Education Center, said yesterday.
“If the court is professional, and bases its judgment on the facts, then the 23 will all be released. If not, it proves the courts are another political tool for the CPP,” he said.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak declined to comment on the case yesterday aside from confirming that the ministry had arranged the transfer of the 21 to Phnom Penh.
On why these 23 in particular were arrested during the January protests, “how many thousands of people would you prefer were arrested?” he said.
Ou Virak, chairman of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said yesterday that the government was trying to make “an example” out of the protesters to deter other would-be demonstrators and would likely drag out the trials.
“I expect the trial to take a long time. I don’t expect verdicts this Friday. I think it will just be introducing charges and possibly some prosecution witnesses,” he said.