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Union activist freed, but cops keep fliers

Union activist freed, but cops keep fliers

A union activist detained in Svay Rieng province on Sunday for delivering fliers promoting a stay-at-home strike was released after three hours, but police kept the leaflets, he said yesterday.

When Kem Chamroeun, 25, of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW) brought a stack of 5,000 leaflets to Full Fortune Knitting, police arrested him, he said.

“I was followed by many police officials, who stopped me and pushed me into their car,” Chamroeun said.

Provincial police officials could not be reached.

The fliers Chamroeun had been distributing encourage workers to stay at home between April 17 and 22 in protest against the government’s refusal to renegotiate the garment sector minimum wage and charges against 23 people arrested in early-January demonstrations.

The seizure did not faze CUMW president Pav Sina, who said union members would simply print new fliers.

Taking action against someone distributing fliers is deeply ingrained in Cambodian authorities’ mentality, said Ou Virak, chairman of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.

In the past, Virak said, Western-backed rebels’ main form of spreading their message was through leaflets.

“In this sense, I think the government is responding in a similar method, treating leaflets like an act of rebellion or treason,” Virak said.

Svay Rieng police arresting Chamroeun is only the latest example of that department oppressing labour-organising action, said Ath Thorn,president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU). Police there have intimidated workers from joining strikes in the past, he said.

Thorn’s union is also under legal fire today, he said.

Despite an agreement on December 3 to drop all lawsuits related to a four-month strike, SL Garment is moving forward with suits against more than 20 C.CAWDU members on incitement, property destruction and other charges, Thorn said.

Three separate cases against C.CAWDU members will be heard in Phnom Penh Municipal Court this morning.

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