Nearly three dozen former security guards for the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia held a protest in front of the mission in the capital Phnom Penh on Tuesday, saying they were wrongfully terminated over accusations that they had shared child pornography online.
The demonstration, during which protesters held banners displaying portraits of Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen and U.S. President Donald Trump, came three months after the U.S. Embassy fired 32 security personnel from the facility for allegedly posting the material to a chat group on Facebook Messenger.
Former security guard Long Sengkimhong told reporters that he and other protesters had delivered a petition to embassy staff demanding evidence to support the claims, and calling for severance pay.
“We have been waiting for the past three months, but there hasn’t been any information,” he said, adding that embassy personnel promised to speak with their representatives, but had yet to do so.
Long Sengkimhong said the embassy had prevented its Cambodian workers from forming a labor union and alleged the U.S. mission had violated local laws and its own employee handbook by handing the security guards pink slips in March.
“We never expected that the U.S.—a democratic country—would violate Cambodian laws,” he said.
The former security guards have also petitioned Hun Sen’s cabinet, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Ministry of Labor to help resolve their dispute, he added, but have so far received no response.
According to a report by the Associated Press, the protesters acknowledged that some pornographic images had been shared but said it had been on a private chat group they set up on Facebook Messenger and not the official embassy chat group.
Media reports have said that some of the shared images included people under the age of 18, but protesters rejected those claims Tuesday.
The former security guards vowed to continue protesting until their dispute was “fairly resolved.”
Arend Zwartjes, the U.S. Embassy’s public affairs officer, refused to comment on what he said were internal personnel issues.
“We respect the right of anyone to protest peacefully, including these former guards,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.
“The U.S. government takes incidents involving child pornography and child exploitation very seriously,” he added.
Hun Sen has been openly critical of the U.S. in the lead up to national elections on July 29, and suggested Washington was behind a plot by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to topple his government.
Both the U.S. and the CNRP have denied any involvement in the alleged plot, but the Supreme Court dissolved the party in November for acts of treason.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.