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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Demos for 21 allowed

Cambodian Confederation of Unions president Rong Chhun (centre) and other union affiliates led a march along Sisowath Quay
Cambodian Confederation of Unions president Rong Chhun (centre) and other union affiliates led a march along Sisowath Quay and on towards the Royal Palace yesterday. Heng Chivoan

Demos for 21 allowed

Demonstrations yesterday supporting the release of detainees arrested during protests last month proved much more peaceful than those at which the 21 were arrested.

Marches to a public shrine on Phnom Penh’s riverside, the Ministry of Justice and the Court of Appeal saw no police intervention, as protesters delivered petitions and released balloons and birds in an appeal to release the 21 people still detained following violent clashes with authorities at demonstrations supporting a garment worker strike in early January.

“Release, release, release them without condition! We need freedom!” shouted Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Garment Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), as about 120 supporters paused in front of the Court of Appeal on their march from the Imperial Garden Villa and Hotel to Preah Ang Dongker. “Tomorrow is the bail hearing for the 21 people [still detained]; we believe the Appeal Court must release them for the sake of freedom!”

Thorn and members of nine union groups and several NGOs chanted during their brief march to the Buddhist shrine, where monks led a prayer before the group released balloons and 23 birds representing each of those arrested during demonstrations on January 2 and 3 – two were released on bail on Saturday.

Similar demonstrations were held in at least 45 locations in Cambodia and 13 international cities, said Naly Pilorge, director of rights group Licadho.

At a press conference before the march, Cambodian Confederation of Unions president Rong Chhun said if judges decline the detainees’ bail request and the government does not agree to raise garment sector minimum wage, unionists will take to the streets.

“If the people are not released and the government does not increase the minimum wage for garment workers to $160 per month, I will lead a nationwide mass demonstration,” Chhun said. “The activists at the factories are prepared to follow their leaders in a mass demonstration the following day.”

In a separate march yesterday morning, about 100 monks, unionists and land activists brought a petition demanding the release of the 21 men and for the court to drop charges of aggravated intentional damage and aggravated violence against all 23 arrested.

Prak Sovannary, wife of Vorn Pov – president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) who was arrested at a demonstration in front of the Yakjin (Cambodia) Inc garment factory on January 2 – joined the group, maintaining her husband’s innocence.

“I am participating in this to seek justice from the Ministry of Justice and the Court of Appeal,” Sovannary said. “They must release and cancel the charges against my husband and against more than 20 other victims, because they are not guilty.”

Leaders of C.CAWDU and several other unions will attend the bail hearing, which is scheduled to take place this morning, C.CAWDU staffer Sun Lyhov said yesterday.

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