Cambodia protesters denied bail despite global concern

February 12, 2014 - 6:55:54 am
PHNOM PENH: Twenty-one Cambodian activists and workers arrested during a bloody crackdown on a garment industry strike last month were denied bail yesterday, despite international appeals for their release.

The case has heightened concerns among rights campaigners about the recent suppression of street protests intended to challenge strongman premier Hun Sen’s nearly three-decade rule.

At least four civilians were killed last month when police opened fire on protesting textile factory workers who were demanding a minimum wage of $160 a month to make clothes for brands including Gap, Nike and H&M.

Police arrested 23 activists and workers during the crackdown. Two of them were released on bail over the weekend while 16 others began a hunger strike on Sunday, according to prison authorities.

No date has yet been set for their trial. Rights groups say if convicted they could face up to five years’ imprisonment on charges including committing intentional violence.

In an open letter to Hun Sen, a dozen international rights organisations on Monday urged authorities to release the detainees. 

The International Trade Union Confederation has launched a campaign to “Free the 23,” urging workers to lobby Cambodian embassies around the world.

But at a closed-door hearing yesterday, an appeals court in the capital Phnom Penh denied bail to the 21 workers and activists on the grounds that their release “would affect public order” and hinder legal procedures, defence lawyer Sam Sokoung told reporters.  He said the defence would appeal the decision at the Supreme Court.

The ruling dismayed about 200 protesters who had rallied outside the court, some crying and shouting: “The court is very unjust.”

Local rights group the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) condemned the decision.   AFP