Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday found six union leaders guilty of instigating violence over their roles in violent protests dating back to 2012.
However, Judge Im Vannak suspended the sentences for all six union leaders and also their colleagues.
Union leaders Chea Mony, Mom Nhem, Ath Thorn, Yang Sophorn and Pav Sina, and former unionist Rong Chhun were initially charged with intent to commit violence, intent to damage, threats to commit damage and obstruction of traffic.
However, Judge Im Vannak yesterday changed the word “intent” to “instigate” and suspended their sentences after the verdict was announced.
“The court has decided to sentence Ath Thorn, Mom Nhim, Chea Mony, Pav Sina, Rong Chhun and Yang Sophorn to two years and six months in jail, but all sentences are suspended,” Judge Vannak said. “However, they each must pay about $1,240 to a factory owner and about $7,450 to other plaintiffs.”
The case was mainly focused on 2013 protests that turned violent and led to authorities opening fire on demonstrators in early 2014 as the demonstrations continued for higher minimum wages for garment workers and in protest against the 2013 election results.
Judge Vannak added that the unionists can file an appeal should they be dissatisfied with the court decision.
The court additionally sentenced Mr Thorn and his colleague Ek Sopheakdey to two years in jail for crimes committed in 2013 against SL factory, while Mr Sina and his four colleagues were additionally sentenced to eight months in jail over crimes committed in 2012 in Sen Sok district. The additional sentences were also suspended, Judge Vannak said.
Mr Sina, president of the Collective Union of the Movement of Workers, said yesterday that he was disappointed by the decision.
“It is not strange because I have never trusted the Kingdom’s court system,” he said, noting that he will file an appeal. “I cannot accept this decision as I did not commit any of the aforementioned offences.”
“We are concerned that we can no longer be union leaders – which is dictated by the Law on Unions. The law says a convict is not allowed to lead a union,” Mr Sina added. “So I will appeal in order to have the verdict overturned.”
Mr Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, yesterday said the verdict was meant to pressure union leaders.
“I think this is to pressure union leaders because if we are found guilty, we cannot be a union leader,” he said. “We also do not accept to pay the compensation because we did not commit what they were accusing us of – we can’t accept this decision.”
Tim Vuthy, a police officer who was one of two officers injured during the clash in 2013, yesterday said he should be compensated by the union leaders.
“I agree with the court decision, it has provided justice for me because I suffered and am blind in one eye,” Mr Vuthy said.
Ly Sochetra, defence lawyer for Mr Sina and Mr Sophorn, declined to comment. Other defence lawyers representing the unionists also declined to comment.
Last month, Prime Minister Hun Sen urged relevant officials to speed up and end lawsuits against union leaders by the end of this year.