A former Capitol Bus Company employee was charged with defamation on Saturday after he was arrested in Battambang for handing out leaflets asking people to boycott the company.
Ly Hong, who is now free on bail, spent two nights in detention after his Friday arrest. A provincial prosecutor said the leaflets contained potentially untrue information, which “could be defamation”.
Pro-labour groups were quick to criticise the arrest, claiming that Hong and his fellow former drivers – seven of whom were detained last week – have been the target of judicial harassment.
“I distributed leaflets to find justice, but met injustice,” Hong said by phone yesterday. “They handcuffed me and took me into custody for two nights.”
A week ago today, a group of sacked Capitol drivers handing out similar leaflets in Phnom Penh were taken into custody by Chamkarmon district authorities, who told them they had broken a city ordinance by failing to secure permission to distribute leaflets.
All seven were forced to sign an agreement not to do it again, telling the media later they had done so under duress.
Hong and the Phnom Penh protesters were among 45 people fired by Capitol last year. The company claimed that those employees didn’t follow company-safety and money-handling rules, however the former bus drivers said they were fired for trying to start a union.
According to Hong, three men dressed as civilians told him to stop handing out the leaflets. They then detained him and handed him over to the Battambang city police, who turned him over to the provincial police, who put him in jail.
A spokesman for Capitol declined to comment yesterday, saying that he had to consult with his lawyer.
Noun San, the provincial prosecutor on the case, said that Capitol did not file a lawsuit against Hong. The charge, levelled by the court, was based on the police complaint.
“The police sent the report attaching leaflets and documents with the message telling people not to ride Capitol bus,” said San. “I think it’s defamation.”
Judge Chea Vannak said that he released Hong on bail following the prosecutor’s request.
Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union, yesterday said that the detention threatened the rights of all peaceful protesters.
“All these irregularities were fabricated and they handcuffed him to make him look like a criminal,” said Thorn. “It’s unfair for the Khmer people – that’s why they do not believe in the judicial system, because it doesn’t work independently.”
William Conklin, country director at the NGO Solidarity Center, described Capitol as a “well connected” company and said that Hong’s quick arrest wasn’t surprising. “This action is in keeping with tactics [used by the company] in the recent past,” he said.