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Calls to free unionist

Calls to free unionist

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People pray yesterday at Prey Sar pagoda for the release of imprisoned union leader Suos Chantha.

A group of garment workers, labour leaders and human rights activists gathered in front of Prey Sar prison yesterday to demand the release of a union representative jailed on drug charges in what many believe was a frame-up.

Suos Chantha, a 29-year-old union leader at the United Garment Factory in Sen Sok district, was arrested November 19 and charged with drug trafficking after officials allegedly confiscated nine small packets of methamphetamines from his motorbike.

The arrest came as Suos Chantha was in talks to led a defection of roughly 1,000 workers at the factory from the government-aligned Independent and Democratic Union Federation to the independent Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, prompting claims that he was framed in retribution for the move.

Suos Chantha’s supporters released balloons and pigeons outside the prison yesterday after holding a ceremony at the nearby Prey Sar pagoda.

CCAWDU president Ath Thorn said that Suos Chantha’s pre-trial detention had been excessive and that the case should be dropped.

“We union leaders and workers would like to appeal to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to release Suos Chantha from prison soon because he is not guilty,” Ath Thorn said.

Dave Welsh, country director for the American Center for International Labor Solidarity, said civil society groups and garment buyers had been engaged in an active campaign on Suos Chantha’s behalf.

“There’s been a lot going behind the scenes, including private meetings up to the ministerial level,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JAMES O’TOOLE

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