The Appeal Court on Tuesday overturned the sentences handed down to six union leaders for their part in demonstrations on Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Boulevard in 2013 that turned violent.
Ath Thorn, Chea Mony, Yang Sophorn, Pav Sina, Rong Chhun and Mam Nhim were each given suspended prison sentences of two years and six months for “intentional acts of violence with aggravating circumstances”.
They were also ordered to pay 35 million riel ($8,750) in compensation to two plaintiffs.
“I am happy that the sentences which were given to me and the other union representatives have been overturned. What is important is that we have been cleared. We did not do what we were accused of by the municipal court,” said Pav Sina, the president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers.
He said he wanted to see unions able to help Cambodian workers without fearing the courts or the authorities.
Rong Chhun, the president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, also expressed his satisfaction with the ruling.
He appealed to the courts to demonstrate their independence by dropping the charges against other union leaders.
“I want to see the courts dispense justice based on the standards of the profession, and to provide justice for others, such as the victims of land disputes and activists,” Chhun said.
Last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen encouraged the six union leaders to appeal and asked the courts to review the original ruling.
This led to suspicions that Tuesday’s decision was down to an intervention by Hun Sen.
However, government spokesman Phay Siphan said no one could interfere with the workings of the courts, including the prime minister.
“Please don’t try to interpret from outside the judgement of the courts because they make their rulings based on facts and the law. The prime minister only requested an acceleration of the judgement process,” Siphan said.
Late in 2013, garment factory workers protested on Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Boulevard to demand an increase in the minimum wage to $160 a month, after the government had previously raised it from $80 to $95.
The weeks of protests ended in violence, leaving four protesters dead and dozens of others – including police – wounded.