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Dismay over bail rejection

Sean Teehan and May Titthara

Defence attorneys will now turn to the Supreme Court after a Court of Appeals judge denied bail this morning for all 21 people still detained from clashes with authorities during garment strike demonstrations last month.

The presiding judge said he decided not to allow bail based on speculation that the detainees’ release would “disturb public order”, Sam Sokung, a defence attorney representing six of the defendants, said outside the courtroom minutes after the decision.

“We are shocked,” said Moeun Tola, head of the Community Legal Education Center, which also provided legal representation for some of the defendants. “There was not enough grounds to keep them in prison.”

Weeping in front of the courtroom after the decision was announced, were the wife, two sons and daughter 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.

Guards at the court shut the gates to keep out about 200 people gathered outside from coming in, after land rights activist Yorm Bopha rushed into the courtroom complex after hearing the decision, falling to the ground and wailing next to Pov’s family.

Minutes before the decision came, rumours buzzed through the crowd of union activists, NGO workers and other supporters on site that a large majority of the detained men would be released today. Based on their attorneys’ take on the situation, Tola also believed this until the ruling.

“I hoped this morning that at least 18 people would be released today,” Tola said. “If the court is really independent, they should be released.”

Across the street from the courthouse, Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union – the largest union behind the strike, which was suspended after deadly clashes on Veng Sreng Boulevard January 3 – said he was equally surprised.

Tomorrow, eight union groups will meet to discuss how to go about reigniting the strike, Thorn said.

“It’s not only about these 21 [detainees],” he said. “Wage negotiations are also important.”

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