Nine of the group of 23 workers and labour activists who were released from custody and given suspended sentences on Friday over January’s garment employee protests will receive medical care in Thailand, rights group Licadho said yesterday.
A number of the men were beaten by security forces during the demonstrations, which saw authorities clash with protesters, and say they received poor medical care while in police custody over the past few months.
Last month, a garment worker who was severely beaten by police on Veng Sreng Boulevard on January 3 died, with his family blaming head trauma inflicted by authorities months before.
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator at Licadho, said that the nine men would be sent to a hospital in Bangkok for check-ups and treatment to ensure they are not masking more serious conditions.
Sokun Sambath Piseth, from labour rights group CLaRi-Cambodia, has already arrived in Bangkok and will receive surgery for hand fractures that doctors say require an urgent operation, Sam Ath said.
Two more workers will travel in the next two days, while Vorn Pov, of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, Theng Savouen, of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community, and Boeung Kak lake activist Chan Puthisak, among others, will head west later this month to receive treatment.
“Their wounds are still painful, that’s why we must take care of them properly,” Sam Ath said. “Most importantly, we think of their lives and want to avoid something more serious occurring.”
Licadho will cover all medical costs.
“I still have headaches and feel dazed. We must receive more check-ups, because the paratroopers beat our heads and kicked us, causing internal injuries,” Vorn Pov said yesterday.
Separately, the European Union issued a statement on Sunday that appeared to warn the government that policy makers in Cambodia’s largest export market were keeping a very close eye on the labour situation.
The statement welcomed Friday’s release of workers and unionists and said that the EU hopes “this latest development indicates a positive shift in the recently deteriorating situation of the freedom of assembly in Phnom Penh and the recurrent harassment of trade unionists”.
“The EU is the largest market for Cambodia’s exports, especially for the garment sector. The EU and its citizens attach a great importance to the respect of fundamental rights such as the freedom of assembly and the workers’ and trade unions’ rights,” it added.
“The EU encourages the Royal Government of Cambodia to accelerate the restoration of these fundamental rights and to release the results of the investigation of the killings of early January.”
The statement comes a week after global brands warned that instability in the garment sector could lead to Cambodia losing “its status as a strategic sourcing market”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH