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Labor leader summoned to court over 2013 case

Coalition Apparel Workers' Demographic Union President Ath Thun speaks to media in front of the Ministry of Labour on August 14, 2015. Stringer

Labor leader Ath Thorn has been summoned to court on Wednesday over a 2013 strike as tensions rise over the banned opposition’s appeals for Cambodian workers in Thailand to join exiled party leaders in a march back to the country in two weeks.

The EU’s report on its review of Cambodia’s access to the “Everything But Arms” (EBA) trade scheme, which could be suspended over political and labor rights violations, is also due next month.

Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labor Confederation, said he planned to attend the court session on Wednesday. The case was one of almost 100 that have accumulated against members of his union since 2011, he said.

“I am very concerned due to current political situation. We’re not sure what’s going to happen with the summons at the court,” Thorn said.

Since Sam Rainsy, the exiled acting president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, promised on Aug. 16 to attempt to return to the country, more than 30 activists of the dissolved party have been arrested and accused of supporting a coup attempt.

The party, which was dissolved in November 2017, has appealed to the about 1.5 million migrant Cambodian workers in Thailand to join them in crossing the border.

Thorn would not comment on Rainsy’s return and whether he would be present for the homecoming attempt.

The court summons for Wednesday is for incitement to commit a felony, which carries a prison sentence of up to two years, and is related to a strike at the SL Garment Factory in Phnom Penh that led to violent clashes with armed forces and the death of one bystander in November 2013.

Khun Tharo, coordinator of labor rights NGO Central, said the summons appeared to be linked to the rising political tensions due to Rainsy’s promised return and the EBA review.

The summons was pressure “to keep and control those union leaders to prevent any movement from them, to make sure they do not join the return from exile of Sam Rainsy,” Tharo said.

Labor Ministry spokesman Heng Sour said the summons was a matter of the courts and referred questions to the Justice Ministry.

Justice Ministry spokesman Chin Malin said the ministry was simply trying to speed up the processing of old cases.

“There are many cases that the courts are working to process and take action on,” he said.

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