Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Three Goods Cart Haulers in Poipet Charged With Obstruction, Intentional Violence After Clash

More than 10 family members and supporters wait in front of the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court after three women were sent to court by the provincial police on June 11, 2024. (Photo by Licadho)
More than 10 family members and supporters wait in front of the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court after three women were sent to court by the provincial police on June 11, 2024. (Photo by Licadho)

Three women, who were arrested by police on Monday night after a protest at the Poipet international border checkpoint, have been charged with obstruction of public officials, public insult and intentional violence on Wednesday by the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court.

Civil society groups have criticized the arrest, calling it a serious violation of human rights and not a solution to their demands.

Samrith Sokhon, deputy prosecutor and spokesperson for the court, confirmed that the women, hand-drawn goods cart haulers, have been charged.

The women, Huot Vannak, 36, Toy Meth, 39, and Orm Lach, 52, were arrested on June 10 for allegedly leading a protest and causing public disorder. 

Huot Vannak, who spoke to CamboJA News by phone before she was taken to court on Tuesday morning, said they were caught at 10 pm on Monday and accused of being the “mastermind” of the protest.

She expressed fear that her family’s condition would become more difficult if she was kept in detention as her children need to go to school and her husband, who underwent a surgery recently, cannot work. She asked the authorities and the court to release her.

“Now, I am at the provincial police headquarters. I am really scared and don’t have much hope that they will release me. If they don’t release me, I don’t know what my children and husband will eat. I agree to stay home and stop pushing the goods cart if that’s what they want. Please set me free.”

Their arrests followed a clash on May 28, 2024, between about 100 cart haulers and over 200 officials at the Poipet border checkpoint. The clash erupted after two officers allegedly assaulted 19-year-old En Ratha, causing her to become unconscious. At the time, Ratha, a Cambodian, was said to have tried to cross the border with two kilograms of fish balls, which were ordered from Thailand.

The authorities denied access, saying that it was illegal and attempted to confiscate the fish balls, which led to a fight that was witnessed by the goods cart haulers, who came to her rescue.

The latest protest on Monday was related to a pressure on their livelihood after authorities stopped them from working at the checkpoint area.

The incident echoed a similar protest in 2015, when over 100 goods cart haulers clashed with the authorities in front of the customs office in Poipet city, resulting in injuries.

Workers clash with authorities in front of the Poipet International Border Checkpoint after two officers allegedly assaulted 19-year-old En Ratha over two kilograms of crab meat on May 28, 2024. (Photo supplied)

Tum Ren, husband to Toy Meth, said police called him and four other haulers in for questioning on Monday after a lawyer, named Chao Sitharith, accused them of being masterminds behind the protest. A letter viewed by CamboJA News confirmed that Toy Meth was summoned for questioning at the Poipet city police headquarters on June 10 based on the lawyer’s complaint. 

However, Tum Ren said, he and another woman were released but his wife and two other women were detained and sent to provincial police headquarters that night.

Tum Ren decried the arrests as unjust and a severe human rights violation. He said their protest was motivated by a strain in their livelihood and demanded the release of all the detainees. “It is very unfair [as] we did nothing. I call for the release of all of them.”

After questioning, the three women were detained with “incitement to disturb social security” and were sent to the provincial court on Wednesday at 9 am where they were questioned and charged.

Licadho coordinator In Kongchet said the workers protested for a solution to their situation, while calling for the charges to be dropped. The judicial system should not be used against impoverished people protesting to protect their livelihoods, he added.

“Using the judicial system is not the solution. We ask the court to drop the charges against them. They are very poor. Their livelihood is only a bit better than beggars. Do not detain them,” he appealed.

Similarly, Vorn Pov, president of Independent Association of Informal Economy (IDEA), emphasized that the arrests represent a restriction of freedom of expression and called for their release.

“They are protesting for their livelihood. If they are not allowed to pull the cart, what should they do? Accusing them of being masterminds of the protests is very unfair. I think the court should release them, otherwise it is a serious restriction on freedoms and will affect the image of our country.”

Note: This article was translated from a Khmer article.