Eight members of Cambodia’s largest independent union were released on bail yesterday after being tried at Takeo Provincial Court over their alleged involvement in a factory protest late last week, officials said.
Defence lawyer Kim Socheat said the members of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), who were arrested on Friday evening as they left a strike at the JSD Textile factory, had been released but were “under the control of the court”.
They each face four charges, which include incitement, though it is not clear when they will return to court for a further hearing.
Investigating judge Kao Sakorn put conditions on the unionists, including a ban on joining any strike or gathering in Takeo. The accused were also ordered to report to the court on the first day of every month and to cease their involvement with JSD.
“[If] the accused intend to escape, the investigating judge will arrest and detain them,” a court order says.
Speaking before the unionists’ release, deputy prosecutor Tin Sochetra said he had enough evidence for them to be convicted.
“We investigated before we arrested them. We have enough evidence such as the photos and video of them damaging factory property … [and] throwing a bottle of gasoline and stones into the factory,” he said. “They did not only destroy the factory property but they also threatened the workers and threw stones at the workers who carried on working.”
C.CAWDU leader Ath Thorn said that his union would continue to act on behalf of the workers.
“The strike is over, but we will continue to talk to buyers,” he said.
The arrests are the latest involving union members in recent months.
About 1,300 workers at JSD had protested since the end of last month, demanding better working conditions and to be allowed to create their own union.
According to JSD employee Khout Visith, the protest began after fellow worker Chaev Chanthol was fired for attempting to form a union.
“The workers have a right to create a union to protect them in their factory, so why was he fired?” he said.
“The workers volunteered to hold a strike by themselves and we suggested those [unionists] help us. They did not incite or force the workers to strike.”
Representatives from JSD could not be reached.
Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, could not be reached for comment yesterday, but a post on the group’s Facebook page spoke out in support of the unionists’ arrest.
“We are thankful that the authorities did step in to detain the people responsible pending further investigations to uncover the mastermind behind these actions,” it says.
The verdict came on the eve of talks scheduled for today between global unions and multinational clothing brands over violations of workers’ rights.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALICE CUDDY