The Court of Appeal on Tuesday quashed the convictions of six union leaders found guilty of instigating violence over their roles in minimum wage protests that turned violent in 2013 and early 2014.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court in December found unionists Ath Thorn, Yang Sophorn, Pav Sina, Mom Nhim, Rong Chhun and Chea Mony guilty of charges ranging from instigating violence to causing damage and obstructing traffic.
The court handed down 30-month suspended sentences to the unionists after they were found guilty of being involved in the protest that resulted in security forces opening fire on demonstrators, leaving at least five dead and dozens injured on Veng Sreng Boulevard.
The Cambodian Labour Confederation, Mr Thorn’s organisation, yesterday said the conviction was overturned on May 28 at about 2pm.
“After the conclusion of the closing statements, the panel [of judges] decided that: the appeals by the union leaders and associations were admissible, rendered the trial decisions as moot and ordered the accused be acquitted of any conviction,” it said in a statement.
Chim Kheang, Mr Thorn’s lawyer, said by phone that the Appeal Court made the right decision.
“On behalf of Ath Thorn, I welcome the decision made by the Court of Appeal to quash my client’s conviction,” Mr Kheang said. “My client was not guilty and justice was given to him.”
Mr Thorn said he was not involved in the protests when reached by phone yesterday.
“I did not do the act Phnom Penh Municipal Court convicted me of,” he said. “I accept the Court of Appeal decision.”
In November, Prime Minister Hun Sen asked the Justice and Labour Ministers to review or dismiss the case of the union leaders.
Mr Sina, president of the Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, yesterday said Mr Hun Sen played an important role in the Court of Appeal decision.
“For me, I want to say thanks to Prime Minister Hun Sen who helped to intervene in our case,” he said. “I am really happy that my conviction was overturned. Now we have enough time to work on behalf of workers.”
However, Mr Sina noted that the unionists are still facing other charges.
“I think all charges against union leaders should be dropped because what we are doing is to improve working conditions for workers,” he said. “I hope all of the charges against unionists will be dropped.”Mr Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, welcomed the Court of Appeal decision. He also called for the courts to be independent and refrain from partisanship.
“I welcome the Court of Appeal decision and I want to see all courts make decisions based on professionalism in order to provide justice to everyone, not just union leaders,” Mr Chhun said, adding that he does not want courts to be influenced by politicians and wealthy individuals.
Ms Sophorn, Ms Nhim and Mr Mony could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Moeun Tola, executive director of the labour rights group Central, also welcomed the decision.
“I do not want to say whether convicting them was justice or injustice, but I welcome the Court of Appeal decision,” Mr Tola said, noting that the unionists are still facing at least 10 complaints. “I want to see [outstanding] cases dropped.”