The Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday charged two protesters involved in a bloody scuffle that left scores injured over the weekend, while another four prominent unionists were also charged in a significant expansion of the controversial case.
The two protesters were arrested on Saturday morning after members of a tuk-tuk drivers’ association violently dispersed a demonstration by former Capitol Bus Company drivers and their supporters from the Cambodia Labour Confederation over the firing of 45 bus drivers who attempted to start a union.
Civil rights groups slammed the police for ignoring the actions of the tuk-tuk drivers, who represented the Cambodia for Confederation Development Association (CCDA), and for arresting the purported victims of the attack instead.
The CCDA, long rumoured to operate at the behest of employers and authorities, was recorded on video savagely beating Capitol protesters with metal rods, sticks and hammers.
But a gathering of about 100 ex-Capitol bus drivers and their supporters at the court yesterday did nothing to stop authorities from charging former bus driver Norn Vanna and CLC member Ros Siphay with intentional violence, aggravation against authorities and blocking traffic.
“Now, the two have been sent to Prey Sar prison for pre-trial detention,” said defence lawyer Kim Socheat.
Vanna and Siphay denounced their “very unjust” treatment as they were handcuffed and escorted out of the hearing by police.
Prosecutor Srey Makni also accused four other protest participants of the same charges. The four are CLC president Ath Thorn, CLC general-secretary Kong Athit, vice president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association Sok Chhun Oeung, and Cambodian Transport Workers Federation secretary Ean Kim Ong.
Contacted yesterday, Ath Thorn, who is also the president of Cambodia’s largest in-dependent garment worker union, said no arrest warrant had been released yet as it still needed approval from the investigating judge.
“The commune and district police seem to be coordinating hand in hand with the company, and their accusation is inappropriate. The [CCDA] carried metal sticks to hit us in broad daylight – why were they not arrested but us instead?”
Thorn said he would provide evidence to the court and raise awareness about the injustice of the case at a national level. Hin Moeun, who represents the former bus drivers, also professed bafflement.
“We protested peacefully, but the tuk-tuk drivers came to fight us with sticks, hammers and metal pipes,” he said. “The police did not intervene but just watched. I don’t understand.”
Krek Sakrain, deputy police chief of Prampi Makara district, said he did not know if authorities would make more arrests over the incident.
Prosecutor Srey Makni declined to comment.