In a verdict denounced as unfair by their union leader, and pointedly compared to the same court’s kid-gloves handling of former Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith, four union officials have been sentenced to 13 months in Svay Rieng provincial prison for blocking a road at a protest last year.
The four officials, all from the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), were also fined 3 million riel ($735) each but have not been sent to prison yet, according to Pav Sina, president of the CUMW.
“We will file a complaint to the Appeal Court this week against the Svay Rieng provincial court’s verdict, but if the Appeal Court upholds this verdict, those four officials will be arrested and sent to jail,” he said.
Sina said the four officials were innocent of blocking the road on August 18 of last year, and were merely responding to a request for intervention from hundreds of protesting workers from Bavet town’s You Li International Garment factory.
“Hundreds of protesters blocked National Road 1, and our officials went down to convince them to open the road, but the police took pictures when my officials stood with the workers.
That’s why they accused us of provoking the workers to block the road,” said Sina.
Identified as Toun Saren, Suth Chet, Chea Oudom and Cham Samnang, the four CUMW officials were sentenced on Monday with provoking a criminal act.
Toun Saren, who is also the secretary-general of the CUMW, said he suspected the harsh sentences came from local authorities eager to crack down on the union.
“It was the local police officials who filed a complaint about us, because they do not like our union and they want to destroy our union in this province,” he said.
Pav Sina compared the case of the union officials to that of Bandith, the former Bavet governor who was convicted of “unintentional violence” and given an 18-month sentence for shooting into a crowd of striking garment workers with his pistol in 2012, injuring three women.
Bandith evaded arrest following his conviction in 2013 for more than two years, turning himself into authorities on Saturday.
“Chhouk Bandith tried to kill workers, but he got only 18 months in jail, and my officials tried to stop [workers] blocking the road, but they got 13 months in jail,” he said, pointing blame at Bavet town police chief Keo Kong.
Bandith’s case had been dropped entirely by the Svay Rieng provincial court at one point, only to later be reopened at the request of an Appeals Court prosecutor.
Sina said that if the original verdict against the four union leaders is upheld, he would lead a demonstration against the court in Svay Rieng.
Bavet police chief Keo Kong declined to comment yesterday. You Li International Garment could not be reached.