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Union scrambling for $25k bail

Union president Ath Thorn speaks to the media in front of Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday after being charged with incitement
Union president Ath Thorn speaks to the media in front of Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday after being charged with incitement. Heng Chivoan

Union scrambling for $25k bail

The leader of Cambodia’s largest independent garment union may soon be in jail, with the group fearing it will not be able to afford the $25,000 bail a judge has ordered be paid by April 25, its vice president said yesterday.

Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU), yesterday received a letter from Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordering him to pay the entire sum within two weeks or be arrested and held in pretrial detention while judge Chea Sok Heang investigates charges of incitement.

“It’s too much,” C.CAWDU vice president Kong Athit said, adding that Sok Heang is unwilling to accept less than the full amount. “There’s no room for negotiation.”

C.CAWDU members are trying to pool money to help pay the bail, Athit said.

Deputy prosecutor Ek Cheng questioned Thorn and C.CAWDU activist Pav Phanna on Tuesday, following up on a complaint filed by Sath Sophai, a security guard at the SL Garment factory, who alleges both defendants incited several violent incidents during a C.CAWDU-led strike between August and December.

Phanna was released under the court’s supervision without bail, but must report to police once a month.

The high bail and short deadline make it apparent the court wants to detain Thorn, legal expert Sok Sam Oeun said yesterday. “They want to put him in jail.”

A strike-ending December 3 agreement between SL and C.CAWDU included a stipulation that SL drop all cases against C.CAWDU, Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center, said.

“The fact that the case is happening at all is an outrage and a complete violation,” Welsh said.

A representative of SL executive director Wong Hon Ming said on Tuesday that SL had dropped all lawsuits against C.CAWDU and was not involved with the security guard’s complaint.

Attorney Kim Socheat, who is representing Thorn, said he has received no documentation of SL dropping lawsuits filed against C.CAWDU members.

Workers allegedly broke machinery inside the Meanchey district factory in September. Police opened fire with live ammunition during a strike that devolved into a riot in November, killing a food vendor.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MOM KUNTHEAR

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