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Cambodia detains trade union leader after Facebook post

Rights group says Morm Rithy convicted in absentia before his arrest
Workers hold banners and flags as they march along a street to mark the International Labour Day in Phnom Penh on May 1. Morm Rithy who was arrested on May 7 was a prominent speaker during commemorations to mark the Labour Day.

Workers hold banners and flags as they march along a street to mark the International Labour Day in Phnom Penh on May 1. Morm Rithy who was arrested on May 7 was a prominent speaker during commemorations to mark the Labour Day. (Photo: AFP)

 

Published: May 08, 2024 09:19 AM GMT
Updated: May 08, 2024 02:16 PM GMT

Cambodian authorities have detained another prominent trade union leader who was convicted in absentia for a two-year-old Facebook post that resulted in an 18-month prison term for charges of incitement and discrediting judicial decisions.

Human rights group Licadho said Morm Rithy, the vice-president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC), was arrested on May 7 night outside of the confederation’s offices, following his conviction earlier the same day.

It said his imprisonment comes shortly before internal CLC leadership elections, which were scheduled to be held later this month, and that the conviction was registered without Rithy or his lawyer present in court. Trial by absentia is normally reserved for defendants living abroad.

Licadho noted his lawyer had requested a delay in the trial due to a scheduling conflict.

In a Facebook video, dated Feb. 24, 2022, Rithy was critical of an arrest of a member of his federation at the Jinbei Casino in Sihanoukville, a southern port city that has gained a notorious reputation for human trafficking and organized crime.

His conviction and detention follow similar charges launched against trade unionists prompting an outcry from human rights groups. On May 3, Cambodia’s Supreme Court upheld a conviction against Chhim Sithar and seven others over a strike at the NagaWorld Casino in Phnom Penh.

That prompted a fierce rebuke from UN Human Rights Office spokesperson Jeremy Laurence who said they were convicted for simply exercising their rights which are protected by Cambodia’s constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Licadho said Rithy, 35, was found guilty of incitement under Articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code, as well as “discrediting a judicial decision” under Article 523 and fined US$500 in addition to his sentence.

He is also the head of the Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers’ Federation and was a prominent speaker during commemorations to mark International Labor Day on May 1.

Human rights groups say about 60 political prisoners are being held in Cambodia. They include opposition leader Kem Sokha, who is serving a 27-year sentence, and Theary Seng, an American-Khmer lawyer and Bible editor who is serving a six-year term.

However, Cambodia has repeatedly lashed back at critics who claim the courts were being used to support a crackdown on dissent, launched in 2017, which ensured overwhelming victories for the ruling Cambodian People’s Party at elections in 2018 and 2023.

According to the World Justice Project, Cambodia was ranked 141 out of 142 countries in its 2023 Rule of Law Index, one place behind Venezuela and one spot ahead of Afghanistan, Haiti, and the Congo, countries that shared last place.

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