Cambodian civil society calls for release of trade union leader

Rong Chhun was arrested earlier this month for allegedly inciting international tensions by taking up the matter of loss of land of farmers in the border regions after 2012 demarcation

August 26, 2020 by Peoples Dispatch
CCU members and Chhun’s supporters addressing the media, at a demonstration outside the OHCHR office in Phnom Penh, on August 24. (Photo: Rong Vichea/Twitter)

Dozens of supporters of jailed Cambdian trade unionist Rong Chhun held demonstrations demanding his release in the capital Phnom Penh on Monday and Tuesday. Chhun, a teacher and president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU), was arrested on July 31 for allegedly “causing incitement” over the loss of land suffered by farmers in border areas between Cambodia and Vietnam.

The demonstrations began on Monday, when dozens of members of the CCU, submitted letters to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) office in Phnom Penh calling for an intervention in the case. In the letter, union members also called for an intervention to halt the crackdown on trade unionists and journalists by the Cambodian authorities.

Chhun was arrested for organizing demonstrations at the Cambodia-Vietnam border, over a dispute along the demarcated line. According to the CCU, many farmers in the bordering region of Tbong Khmum province have lost considerable land after the border was defined in 2012 by the governments of Cambodia and Vietnam. Farmers have also complained that the Hun Sen government never paid heed to their grievances.

The weeks that followed also saw the arrest of several of his supporters and associates in the CCU for holding protests against his arrest. The ongoing demonstrations are held despite warnings from prime minister Hun Sen of more arrests if the CCU and its affiliates continue to organize. Sen claimed that such demonstrations will affect relations between the two nations and can supposedly cause war.

Em Bunnarith, a member of the CCU, claimed that the demonstrations were not about the border issue, but people’s right to organize. “Our main purpose is to demand the release of Mr. Rong Chhun. What we are doing is based on the law and the fundamental rights that we have to peacefully assemble, and what we are doing is not related to the border issue as stated in Samdech Hun Sen’s message,” he told the media when asked about Sen’s statement.