Union Leader Released; ‘Free the 23’ Protests To Continue

Phnom Penh police released union leader Sok Chhun Oeung from custody Monday, a day after dragging him off the street at a peaceful protest he had organized along Phnom Penh’s riverside against the detention of 23 men still in jail for participating in demonstrations over garment factory wages earlier this month. Remaining defiant on his release, Mr. Chhun Oeung joined human rights groups in denouncing his arrest as illegal and said his union for motorcycle taxi and tuk-tuk drivers, known as the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA), would organize an even bigger rally soon in spite of a standing government ban on public gatherings. … A day after the military police shot dead five garment workers and injured 40 more protesting for higher wages on January 3, the Interior Ministry imposed an indefinite ban on public gatherings across the city. Legal experts say the ban is illegal, however, because it suspends a fundamental freedom enshrined in the country’s Constitution. Undeterred by the ban, Mr. Chhun Oeung and his group’s secretary-general, Heng Sam Ol, said Monday that they were planning to host a thousands-strong rally for the release of the 23 detainees at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park on Sunday. … Among the 23 detainees, 17-year-old Yurn Chea was transferred from Kompong Cham province’s Correctional Center 3 prison—where the 22 others remain—to the provincial prison on Saturday to be with other minors. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has charged all the detainees with intentionally causing violence and damage to property. …

Aun Pheap