Protesters Push for Release of Cambodians Jailed in Bus Protest

2016-02-23
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A tuk tuk is shown caught in the crush of Phnom Penh traffic in this file photo. An association linked to tuk tuk drivers is at the heart of a demonstration that sent a labor activist and a bus driver to jail.
A tuk tuk is shown caught in the crush of Phnom Penh traffic in this file photo. An association linked to tuk tuk drivers is at the heart of a demonstration that sent a labor activist and a bus driver to jail.
AFP

About 300 demonstrators gathered outside the Prey Sar prison and the Phnom Penh Municipal Court today in an effort to win the release of a bus driver and union official who were jailed earlier this month after they were attacked for protesting alleged union-busting actions by the Capitol Bus Company.

The protestors, which included former bus drivers, relatives of the accused and garment workers chanted:  “Please, the court release, please release the two arrested.”

Their appeals fell on deaf ears, however, as the court rejected a legal request to release the men.

Former Capitol Tours bus driver and Cambodian Transport Workers Federation (CTWF) member Nan Vanna and Cambodia Informal Worker Association (CIWA) official Ros Siphay were arrested on Feb. 6 and charged with aggravated intentional violence, obstructing public officials and obstructing a public road.

Im Sokhom, Nom Vanna’s mother, told RFA on Tuesday that authorities were acting unfairly.

“My son was victimized unjustly,” she told RFA’s Khmer Service. “He was a driver, a worker who is the son of farmers making a living with integrity. Why he was jailed unjustly?”

Ros Siphay's mother, Srey Suon, appealed to Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene and for NGOs to pressure the government for his release

“Feel pity for my son” she told RFA. “Please help. Please all nongovernmental organizations and governmental institutions help release my son soon.”

A question of justice

Cambodian Labor Confederation President Ath Thorn questioned the government’s desire to find justice.

“The perpetrators carried metal bars and pieces of metal water pipe pipes and photographs and videos were posted online, even in other countries, and still the perpetrators could not be arrested,” he said. “Not only that, the court accused the drivers without conducting clear investigation. Where is the justice?”

The Cambodian government may not be listening, but 50 NGOs issued a joint statement on Tuesday, condemning Capitol Tours bus company for abusing the rights of its former drivers who tried to establish a union and were fired.

The NGOs have also appealed to the public to boycott the company’s services if their request for the release of the two detained workers is not answered.

“It is important to base the issues on reasons and specific and clear evidence and find out who would be responsible for this,” the NGOs said.

On Feb. 6, the two men were part of a demonstration that turned violent when former drivers for the company and their supporters from the Cambodia Labor Confederation gathered in front of the Capitol Tours bus company’s headquarters to protest the firing of 45 drivers who tried to start a union.

According to news reports, members of the Cambodia for Confederation Development Association (CCDA) clothed in black and wearing helmets rushed the union protestors and violently beat them with sticks, metal bars and hammers.

While the CCDA represents tuk-tuk and moto-dops drivers, it is widely thought to be in the business leaders’ back pockets. CCDA members were captured on video viciously beating the protesters, with one slamming a hammer twice into the back of a cowering bus driver.

Once police pushed back the protesters they arrested Nan Vanna and Ros Siphay, but none of the attackers.

Domestic rights group Licadho said that 14 people were injured in the violence, including one policeman, while Ros Siphay was allegedly beaten by police.

CCDA and Capitol Tours blamed the union representatives for starting the violence, and the group’s leader E So­phors accused Licadho of doctoring the video.

Reported by Leng Neang for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Pagnawath Khun. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.

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