Seven recently sacked drivers from the Capitol Bus company say they were detained by Chamkarmon district officials on Saturday for distributing leaflets at another company’s bus station calling on passengers not to ride their former employer’s coaches.
Forty-five Capitol drivers let go in December of last year claim their dismissal was related to union activities.
A subsequent protest by the drivers in early February was violently disrupted by tuk-tuk drivers representing the Cambodia for Confederation Development Association (CCDA), who badly beat several demonstrators and left many injured.
In the aftermath of the incident, commentators suggested that the CCDA were operating as thugs for hire funded by Capitol, among others.
Hin Moeun, a representative of the fired drivers, said he and his colleagues had travelled to KSO Bus Station (owned by a rival operator to Capitol) in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmon district to distribute leaflets discouraging passengers from giving Capitol or CCDA tuk-tuks their business.
While doing so, he said, they were surrounded by more than 100 people, who he claims were members of the CCDA and intent on arresting the bus drivers.
“About half an hour later, Chamkarmon security guards took us to the district hall,” Moeun said.District officials then told the drivers they had contravened city regulations by distributing leaflets without first asking permission.
Before leaving the district hall, all seven were allegedly made to sign a pledge not to hand out fliers without permission, which the drivers say they signed under duress.
“If we did not sign the pledge they wouldn’t let us out. We just did it to get ourselves out,” said Vanna Rong, one of the seven drivers.
CCDA president E Sophors described the bus drivers’ actions as “an illegal and selfish act” and insisted his colleagues were acting on their own behalf, rather than Capitol’s.
The CCDA has an agreement with Capitol to provide tuk-tuks at their stations.
“The association is preparing documents to file a complaint with the court [against the Capitol drivers] for subverting the legal business of our members,” Sophors said.
The head of administration for Chamkarmon District Hall, Tuy Bunsereirathmony, insisted the drivers’ rights were not violated on Saturday.
“I did not detain them. My security guards were there to help them and brought them to sign a pledge,” said Bunsereirathmony.
“This problem happened because they had no permission. The City Hall has a circular that requires its permission to distribute letters or petition in public places in 2015.
Legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said yesterday that there is no law requiring people wishing to distribute fliers to first obtain permission but that this has little practical meaning in Cambodia.
“From the point of view of a lawyer, if no law prohibits doing something, people are free to do that,” said Sam Oeun.
However, he added, “the government always think they can do what they want. If the law does not say clearly people are allowed to do something, the authorities feel free to stop them.”