Cambodia: detention of labour activists unjustified

The ICJ criticized the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision to deny bail to 23 people who were arrested and detained earlier this month following protests by garment factory workers seeking a higher minimum wage.

The detainees’ lawyers told the ICJ that the court denied bail for the first nine detainees, arrested on 2 January 2014, in order to “guarantee their presence for further legal proceedings”, “to preserve public order” and “to prevent instability that results from the commission of crimes”.

The remaining 13 detainees, arrested on 3 January 2014, were denied bail in order to “end crime”, “prevent new crime” and “ensure detainees are available for trial”.

The decision to deny bail to the 22 detainees followed the Court’s decision on 13 January 2014 to deny bail to Vorn Pao, President of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA).

Considering his application separately from the others, the court, similarly, provided the same reasons as in the case of the first nine detainees.

“International law is clear that pre-trial detention could only be exercised in exceptional situations, and avoided if suitable alternatives are possible,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific. “The reasons presented by the Court don’t justify holding these activists in prison right now.”

All 23 of those whose bail applications have been denied have been charged with causing intentional violence and damage to property. Three face additional charges for violent resistance against a public official, as well as a traffic offence.

They were arrested as part of the government’s response to striking garment workers and demonstrators protesting the 28-year-rule of Prime Minister Hun Sen (photo).

Security forces shot and killed at least four protesters on 3 January. The government has banned further protests.

Article 9(3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Cambodia is a party, guarantees the right to liberty. It states, “It shall not be the  general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody, but release may be subject to guarantees to appear for trial”. Such guarantees include bail.

“There are alternatives to the detention, such as bail or other conditions the court could impose on these 23 detained activists if the Court is concerned, on the basis of substantiated and objective grounds that there is a risk that each of them will abscond before the trial or interfere with the investigation,” said Zarifi. “In the absence of such proof and the serious consideration of alternatives the continued pre-trial detention of each of the 23 individuals would amount to arbitrary detention under international human rights standards.”

Vorn Pao’s lawyers filed an appeal on 14 January 2014 and the Court is expected to issue a decision on his appeal by 3 February 2014.

According to the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, Vorn Pao appears weak and continues to suffer pain from the head injuries he sustained.

Lawyers for the other 22 detainees have also expressed their intention to appeal the Court’s decision to deny them bail.


Sam Zarifi, ICJ Asia-Pacific Regional Director, (Bangkok), t:+66 807819002, e-mail: sam.zarifi(a)

Craig Knowles, ICJ Media & Communications, (Bangkok), t:+66 819077653, e-mail: craig.knowles(a)

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