The 23 Cambodian factory workers detained for instigating violence during protests for a higher minimum wage earlier this year were released under suspended sentences following a Phnom Penh court verdict last Friday.
According to the Associated Press, the court ruled that the 23 of the defendants, who have been jailed since their arrests in Jan. had served enough time and were free to return home. Their suspended sentences ranged from six months to four and a half years.
Human rights groups welcomed the release of the workers but criticized the convictions. They said the ruling was politically motivated to quiet criticism from both the government’s opposition, and from Western clothing brands, including H&M, Gap Inc. and Adidas, which produce in Cambodia, the AP reported.
“We are immensely relieved that the detainees have been released and are reunited with their families after five long months in prison. The harsh but suspended prison sentences doled out by the court were an attempt to save face after serious criticism by a number of international observers about a lack of direct evidence against the accused and serious irregularities in their trial,” Jyrki Raina, IndustriALL’s general secretary stated.
Meanwhile in a separate verdict, two trade unionists charged in Nov. 2013 in relation to the SL Garment strike were also released. The Cambodian government confirmed that the background research into a new wage setting mechanism will be completed and presented to the unions and the garment manufacturers’ association, GMAC, by mid-June so that minimum wage negotiations can restart.
Ath Thorn, president of IndustriALL affiliate garment workers’ union, C.CAWDU added, “This victory is the first step. The trade union movement will continue to fight for a minimum wage of U.S. $160 for garment and textile workers and to ensure the protection of workers’ rights, decent work and dignity.”