Ninety-five NGOs have issued a joint statement condemning the convictions of six union leaders for their roles in a minimum wage protest at Veng Sreng Boulevard in Phnom Penh in 2013.
On December 11, Ath Thorn, Chea Mony, Mam Nhim, Pav Sina, Rong Chhun and Yang Sophorn were each handed two-and-a-half year suspended prison sentences by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and ordered to pay compensation of 35 million riel ($8,750) to two victims, Chea Sophany and Tim Vuthy.
The four original charges against the union leaders – intentional acts of violence with aggravating circumstances; intentionally causing damage with aggravating circumstances; threats to destroy property followed by an order; and blocking public traffic – had all been changed to charges of instigating the acts.
The NGOs’ statement criticised the court for not providing sufficient credible evidence.
“At trial, prosecutors failed to produce any evidence to establish that the six had committed the crimes they were charged with, nor were any witnesses produced to prove the accused had acted violently during the protests."
“Importantly, no evidence was submitted to prove that the six union leaders had instigated any of the acts with which they were charged. Further, none of the actual perpetrators of violence or damage were named or charged,” the statement read."
The NGOs urged the government to guarantee fundamental rights and permit the reopening of public spaces in order to allow genuine freedom of association for the Cambodian people and to ensure that independent trade unions can freely operate in the interests of their members.
Pav Sina, the president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, said he had already filed a complaint to the Appeal Court on December 18.
The NGOs’ statement called for the convictions against the six union leaders to be immediately quashed.
“While the delivered sentences do not require the six convicted leaders to go to prison, they face imprisonment on these charges if they commit any other felony or misdemeanour within the next five years – a period that coincides with the next national elections in 2023."
“As the criminal charges stem from independent trade union activity, we are concerned these suspended sentences will be used to imprison the convicted union leaders if they engage in any protest action over the next five years,” the NGOs wrote.
The president of the Cambodia Alliance of Trade Union Yang Sophorn said she had also filed an appeal last week and welcomed the NGOs’ statement.
“I am happy that the NGOs support our work. We were not involved in any activities destroying anyone’s property,” she said.
Ministry of Justice spokesman Chin Malin considered the statement an example of freedom of expression.
“It’s their right to issue [the statement] but dropping the charges is the court’s decision and the decision has already been made,” he said.