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Bamboo poles land union leader in trouble

Buth Reaksmey Kongkea / Khmer Times Share:
Authorities seized 51 bamboo poles from the union leader during the protest. Supplied

The president of the Cambodian Labour Solidarity Union Federation was yesterday tried in absentia for inciting garment workers to commit violent acts against a factory in Por Senchey district’s Chom Chao commune in 2015.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Ros Piseth identified the accused as Seang Rithy, 35, and noted he was charged with “threats accompanied by extortion”. He faces six months to three years in jail if convicted.

Judge Piseth said the accused was arrested on February 3, 2015, after a legal complaint made by Khov Chhay, the managing director of Apsara Garment Factory.

Mr Rithy was later released on bail on February 23, 2015.

A police report stated that more than 100 workers from the factory held a protest from January 30-31, 2015, demanding a $28 monthly pay raise.

Mr Rithy, who was the union leader, along with 15 union members, actively participated in the protest.

“During the protest Mr Rithy and his union members entered the factory without permission from the factory owner,” Judge Piseth said. “Mr Rithy ordered the factory security guards to open the factory’s doors and allow other workers to come out and join the protest.”

Judge Piseth said Mr Rithy posted a photo of bamboo poles on his Facebook page the day before the protest, with the message: “It is a gift for Meak Bochea Day, for the gangsters operating in the factory.”

Mr Rithy was later arrested in front of the factory while participating in the protest. After his arrest, police seized 51 bamboo poles from his car.

The suspect and the plaintiff Mr Chhay did not attend the hearing yesterday.

Mr Rithy’s defence lawyer Khuth Sokheang said his client recognised that he entered the factory without authorisation, but said he did not damage any of the factory’s property or commit any violence.

As for the bamboo poles, Mr Sokheang said they were to be used for banners and flags.

“They were not intended to be used for violent purposes,” he said. “There is no real evidence to show my client has committed an offence. I would like the court to drop the charges against him.” 

Deputy prosecutor Var Sakda said the photo and accompanying message on Mr Rithy’s Facebook page, plus the 51 bamboo poles seized from his car, proved that he intended to incite workers to commit violence.

“I suggest the judge punish him so that he won’t try to commit violence again in the future,” she said.

A verdict is due on October 6.

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