Cambodian activists held as brands demand Hun Sen answers over deaths

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 2:05pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 January, 2014, 11:34pm

Cambodian police detained 11 activists yesterday as they broke up a rally calling for international assistance to secure the release of protesters arrested during a recent bloody crackdown.

The arrests came as dozens of the world's biggest clothing brands, including Adidas, Nike, Marks & Spencer, and Wal-Mart, demanded Cambodia's prime minister explain the use of "deadly force" in the crackdown. At least three people died when military police opened fire with assault rifles on protesters on January 2 and January 3 at a Phnom Penh industrial park making clothes for export to the West.

Strongman premier Hun Sen faces mounting criticism by rights groups of his government's suppression of the street protests seeking to challenge his nearly three-decade rule.

Several prominent campaigners, including a union leader, were among those pushed into police vehicles yesterday as they tried to petition Western embassies for help in the case of 23 protesters arrested during the deadly crackdown earlier this month, activists said.

"We did not commit any violence. We just exercised our freedom of expression," Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, said by telephone as he was driven to a police station in the city.

We did not commit violence. We just exercised our freedom of expression

The 23 people detained in connection with the unrest are being held at a prison near the border with Vietnam on charges of intentionally causing violence and destroying property, according to local rights activists.

The government said the recent rallies were illegal and has indefinitely banned opposition demonstrations in the capital. Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the 11 activists "were temporarily detained" for education on laws because they had no permission to stage a protest.

Retailers who wrote to Hun Sen on Monday said they wanted to meet him to express their "grave concern at the killing and wounding of workers and bystanders by security forces".

The 30 retailers demanded a "prompt and thorough investigation". They said officers found to have used "disproportionate and excessive force" must be held accountable."The use of deadly force against protesting workers will ... jeopardise Cambodia's position as a stable sourcing location for international brands," the retailers said in their open letter to Hun Sen.

"The global garment industry is changing rapidly, and industrial peace is required to rebuild our confidence in the Cambodia garment industry."

The government acknowledged receipt of the letter but has yet to respond to their "respectful" request for a meeting.

Additional reporting by The Guardian