One the eve of the trial of 23 people arrested during a garment strike in January, their supporters yesterday expressed concern that politics, rather than the facts, may determine the verdict.
Nearly four months after their arrests at protests on January 2 and 3 – the day that authorities killed at least four people when they fired automatic rifles into crowds on Veng Sreng Boulevard – all 23 will stand trial today.
“The [largest] concern for us is that the ruling party will keep them as political hostages,” said Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), which is providing legal representation for some defendants. “If the court really depends . . . on the law, the charges against the 23 should be dropped.”
Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged a large majority of detainees with intentional violence and damage, crimes that carry a maximum of five years in prison and $2,500 in fines. The court later reduced charges against three suspects – including Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) president Vorn Pov – to charges carrying a maximum of two years.
Defendants were arrested outside the Yakjin garment factory on January 2 and on Veng Sreng Boulevard the next day. Two were later released on bail, while 21 were held at Kampong Cham’s Correctional Centre 3 until they were brought to Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison on Wednesday.
Unsure about what evidence the prosecution has against those arrested, Naly Pilorge, head of rights group Licadho, which is also providing legal representation, said the defence’s evidence includes up to 52 witnesses and video footage.
“With the number of [the defence’s] witnesses and documents . . . we expect this [trial] to be longer than a day,” Pilorge said yesterday.
Evidence has already been sent to the courthouse, said Kim Socheat, one of the attorneys representing Pov.
“I expect the court will release my client and the other people, because they are not guilty,” Socheat said.
Representatives from major brands, embassies and unions are expected to attend the trial. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY