WASHINGTON DC — The Asian Human Rights Commission has launched an online petition to pressure the Cambodian government to release 21 union activists and workers charged in connection with labor protests last month.
Twenty-three workers were arrested in a violent crackdown by government police and security forces early January, when thousands of protesters gathered to demand better working conditions and a raise in the minimum wage to $160 per month.
Two of the detainees were released on bail, but others remain in detention at a remote facility near Vietnam border. The petition, which was launched Thursday, calls for the courts to drop the charges against the detainees and release them without conditions.
“To continuously keep them in detention and to prosecute them for demanding an increase of their wages violates Cambodia’s treaty obligations to protect the fundamental rights of its people,” the petition says. “Their detention will also continue to be a negative example that anyone who demands better living condition could end up in prison.”
The detainees are facing criminal charges for intentional violence and damages. All 21 were denied bail in a hearing last week.
Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union, said workers are now planning a national strike as a last resort to push for their demands. “We have to do it for the release of the 21 workers and for renegotiations of salaries,” he said.
The strike will call for laborers to stay home and not work until a solution is found. Government authorities have refused to meet with union leaders and with representatives from major Western buyers, he said.
“We've seen that not only workers who demand pay raises, but buyers as well, the government does not want to see,” he said. “Their avoidance shows that the government is not honestly raising workers’ salaries.”