WASHINGTON DC — Rong Chhun, head of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, is making a trip through the US, seeking support to help free 21 labor activists who have been in jail since deadly crackdowns on demonstrations in January.
His visit comes as another labor leader, Ath Thun, was in Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday, facing charges of incitement for similar protests.
Rong Chhun told VOA Khmer Tuesday the US is a major market for garments produced in Cambodia and a major donor to Cambodia. So he has come here to appeal for more support in gaining the release of the activists, who were calling for a raise in the minimum wage, to $160 per month.
Rong Chhun said he plans to meet US State Department officials, as well as major unions and rights groups. He is seeking the release of jailed activists as well as an investigation into the deaths of at least four people during January’s crackdown.
He will also seek support in Canada, Australia and Europe, he said.
In Phnom Penh Tuesday, demonstrators gathered outside the city court, where Ath Thun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, was questioned over similar protests last year.
He is currently under investigation for allegedly inciting violence on the part of demonstrators.
The complaint was filed by the SL factory in Phnom Penh, where 5,000 workers went on strike between August and December last year, demanding higher wages and better working conditions. About 1,000 demonstrators from SL marched toward the home of Prime Minister Hun Sen on Nov. 12, 2013, but were stopped by police. Five people were seriously injured in the ensuing violence.
Ath Thun called the charges against him “groundless” and made with the intention “to make trouble for us.”
Am Sam Ath, lead investigator for the rights group Licadho, said the workers had been exercising their right to demonstrate and that union support did not constitute incitement to violence.
“When there is a complaint against a union leader, it is a serious violation of workers’ rights, and it is intimidation of other union leaders,” he said.