Cambodian court upholds verdicts in deadly 2014 garment strike

Cambodia’s Appeals Court upheld verdicts on Friday against 10 garment factory workers and labor activists who were convicted in 2014 following a deadly worker strike crackdown.

Appeals Court Presiding Judge Plang Samnang, however, dropped a lower court’s requirement that the 10 defendants pay fines between US$1,000 to US$2,500.

The defendants were charged in 2014 with causing intentional violence and damaging property during fractious strikes and demonstrations for higher wages that took place in the Veng Sreng factory district of Phnom Penh between Dec. 25, 2013, and Jan. 3, 2014.

The strike ended when Cambodian police fired at and killed at least four people and wounded nearly 40 others. 

Video of the Jan. 3, 2014, violence captured by RFA Khmer showed police firing at a group of people scrambling from the scene, with one person falling in a pool of blood and surrounded by weeping colleagues and relatives.

The violence came as the now-banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, which had backed workers’ unions in their campaign for a higher minimum wage, held daily protests demanding that then-Prime Minister Hun Sen step down following accusations of voter fraud in national elections the year before.

Garment factory workers walk to find respective vehicles to head home after leaving work in Kampong Speu province in 2019. Credit: Tang Chhin Sothy/AFP

The 10 defendants were detained for almost five months as they awaited trial. A Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge convicted them in May 2014 and ordered sentences of up to five years’ imprisonment in addition to the fines. 

However, the prison sentences were suspended and the defendants were released.

Hoping for vindication

The defendants have continued to appeal the verdict, partly because of the hefty fine, according to labor activist and government critic Vorn Pov. 

But Vorn Pov said he has also spent the last decade hoping for vindication and an acquittal. He has also pushed for an investigation into those who attacked demonstrators and activists during the strike.

“I urge the government to drop charges against me,” he said on Friday. “I need full justice for myself.”

Am Sam Ath of human rights group Licadho said he was disappointed with the court’s verdict, which he said was meant to intimidate union members and human rights activists. 

“This is a message meant to break the spirits of those who work for society and human rights,” he said.  

Translated by Yun Samean. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.