Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Wing Star Shoes Union Leader Sentenced to One Year Imprisonment by  Kampong Speu Court

Yang Sophorn, president of Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, and other union members gather outside the Kampong Speu provincial court following Chea Chan’s verdict on June 20, 2024. (CATU)
Yang Sophorn, president of Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, and other union members gather outside the Kampong Speu provincial court following Chea Chan’s verdict on June 20, 2024. (CATU)

Kampong Speu provincial court sentenced Wing Star Shoes union leader Chea Chan, who was charged with conspiracy to commit theft, to one year imprisonment, on Thursday. He will serve six months in jail with another six months suspended.

Chan was arrested without a warrant in February just a few weeks after he was elected union leader following a complaint filed by the factory owner that he was involved in a theft, which occurred two years ago.

Yang Sophorn, president of Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions, said she was “deeply disappointed” with the decision and did not expect the court to decide “unjustly”.

She opined that the decision was unfair to Chan, who experienced injustice as he “did not commit the theft”, while those who did were not brought to justice.

“The public views this place [the court] as a place where justice is done, but we didn’t expect the court to deliver a decision like this. It seems like it was influenced by those in power or who are rich.” 

The decision showed a lack of freedom of association, Sophorn said, despite the fact that Cambodian law supported the formation of unions, which were in accordance with labor laws and ILO conventions, and other conventions.

“Although they have the right to form a union, the owner of the company is not happy, finds an excuse and bars union rights. This is a violation of the rights of the employees,” Sophorn added.

A prison vehicle transporting prisoners including Chea Chan arrives at the Kampong Speu provincial court to hear his verdict on June 20, 2024. (CATU)

Chan’s wife, Chhay Chanra, 35, told CamboJA News that she was heartbroken after hearing the verdict, thinking that the “court was a place of justice”, yet the decision was disappointing.

She maintained that her husband did not commit the theft or join others to steal from the company, asserting that he was innocent and should not serve time in prison.

“This is very unjust, I can’t accept it. I expected to hear that he will be released today. But when I heard the court’s decision, I couldn’t believe it. My husband is innocent,” said Chanra.

Since Chan was arrested in February, he will​ stay in prison for another two months, totaling six months in jail, with the remainder six months suspended. “My husband will be free in mid-August this year,” said Chanra. 

Pheng Siphoan, chief of the administrative secretariat and spokesperson of  Kampong Speu Provincial Court, did not pick up the phone when contacted by CamboJA News.

On May 9 this year, Japanese sportswear company ASICS acknowledged the gravity of Chan’s situation, assuring its commitment to uphold labor rights and fair labor practices within the ASICS supply chain. It also expressed their concern for Chan’s health and wellbeing. 

According to LICADHO, Chan is one of at least three imprisoned unionists in Cambodia. Chhim Sithar, president of the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld, was jailed in November 2022. Morm Rithy, president of the Cambodian Tourism and Service Workers’ Federation, was jailed earlier this month prior to an internal union vote.

In 2022, a report by Human Rights Watch mentioned that Cambodia does not have a designated labor court despite the Cambodian labor law stipulating the need for one. The Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training’s 2023 annual report urged factories to respect the labor law and resolve labor conflicts where more than 8,000 cases have been recorded. 
(Additional report by Tep Suokeany)

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