Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday heard the case of six trade union leaders who were sued by the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) over violent protests demanding increased wages in late 2013 and early 2014, despite GMAC having withdrawn its complaint.
While only two of the more than 10 alleged victims – Tim Vuthy and Som Dina – were present, the six defendants, including the president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association (CITA), Rong Chhun, did not attend the hearing.
The other union presidents who are defendants are Ath Thorn, of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU); Mom Nhim of the National Independent Federation Textile Union of Cambodia; Pav Sina of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW); Chea Mony of the Free Trade Union; and Yang Sophorn of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU).
Dina, a Sen Sok district police officer, told the court that he was directing traffic on Veng Sreng Boulevard when a group of 20 protesters threw stones and sticks at him. Dina said he sustained serious injuries to his right wrist and was sent to hospital.
“I don’t know which union threw stones at me. I don’t know their identity because it happened during the night,” he said.
Tim Vuthy, a Veal Vong commune deputy police chief, told the court that he was also directing traffic on the boulevard when protesters threw stones at him, seriously injuring his left eye. Vuthy said he was sent to a hospital in Vietnam after Cambodian doctors said his sight could not be saved.
“It was nighttime and I couldn’t identify which group the protesters belonged to. I just knew they were part of the unions. I demand 40 million riel ($10,000) in compensation,” he said.
Deputy prosecutor Ly Sophana said witness accounts and evidence, including video footage of the protest, showed the offence did happen.
“The [violence] happened and it caused damage to garment factory property and injuries to the victims. I ask the judge to look at the evidence and follow the law,” he said.
Judge Im Vannak said GMAC president Ken Loo withdrew his complaint on December 2, apparently following a public appeal by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“With Prime Minister Hun Sen’s speech on expediting court procedures involving unions . . . the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia decided to withdraw its complaint without demanding any compensation,” said a statement issued by Loo.
Defence lawyers for Rong Chhun, Pav Sina and Yang Sophorn acknowledged that the attack did occur, but that the trio were not present when the violence broke out.
They said the three union leaders were at the time attending a meeting with the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training regarding workers’ wages. The lawyers asked the court to drop all charges as the plaintiff has already withdrawn its complaint.
Deputy prosecutor Ly Sophana said the six defendants are charged with the intentional act of violence with aggravating circumstances; intentionally causing damages with aggravating circumstances; threats to destroy followed by an order; and blocking public traffic.
They face prison terms of up to five years if found guilty.
Judge Im Vannak said a verdict will be announced on Tuesday.