Chinese national Wang Xiao Jiao (R), who was a manager at the Top World garment factory until she was dismissed on Monday, is escorted by police at Phnom Penh Municipal Court Tuesday, Oct.23, 2012. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post
Less than 36 hours after Wang Zia Chao provoked a strike by destroying two photos of the late King Father in front of hundreds of Cambodian garment workers, the Chinese factory manager was booked, charged and convicted by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, which last night sentenced her to a year in prison on charges of intentionally causing damage.
The sentence was immediately suspended and she will be deported to China, said Judge Seng Neang, adding that she will also be fined 2.5 million riel ($625) and “charged with damage to the late King Father in accordance with articles 410 and 107 of the penal code”.
In court, yesterday, Zia Chao begged forgiveness, saying she had not realised the photos she pulled out of a worker’s hands on Monday and destroyed were of Norodom Sihanouk, who died of a heart attack on October 15.
“I would not have done that if I knew it was the king’s photos. I would have given it back to them if they told me,” she said. “I very much regret what I did, and I am sorry to the king and to all the Cambodian people. My last suggestion to the court is to let me be free and send me back to my country, because I have a daughter and an old mother to feed.”
The Chinese embassy could not be reached for comment after the verdict, but it had sought to distance itself from an act that a spokesman previously described as “stupid”.
Phnom Penh Police commissioner Choun Sovann said the deportation request would be reported to the Ministry of Interior immediately and that they would request that she be blacklisted from re-entering the country. “I think the punishment is enough for her mistake,” he added. “And I think the Chinese embassy also accepts it in accordance to the law of Cambodia.”
The rapid conclusion comes as authorities and the embassy scramble for damage control following the Monday incident.
More than 1,000 workers launched an immediate strike in retaliation, and threatened to march from their Meanchey district factory to the Royal Palace. Police diverted the demonstration by having Zia Chao prostrate before an image of the late king and apologise before bringing her in for questioning.
At court yesterday, a handful of workers gathered outside to witness the results of the hearing.
“I don’t mind that they suspended the sentence from putting her in jail, because we are mourning the late King Father and our country has good relationship with China. I used to work with her many years, so I don’t want to see her to sent to the jail,” said Seng Seangly, the owner of the photos and plaintiff in the case.
In a bizarre twist, a second Chinese national was detained and questioned yesterday for destroying a widely circulating image of the moon in which many believe the late king’s face can be seen.
Chaos erupted within the Sunn Lung Garment factory and workers halted work, before forcing the manager to accompany them to the Royal Palace and apologise.
Police then brought her to the Municipal Police headquarters to “keep social order in front of palace”, police commissioner Sovann told the Post, adding that she was released after several hours and the situation chalked up to a “misunderstanding”.
“It seems she has no guilt as it is the picture of the moon, not the real picture of the King,” he said, noting that she was brought in primarily out of concern for her safety.