8 January 2014
Christian Aid strongly criticises the arrest of 23 people, including two members of our partner organisations, in the midst of widespread unrest and security forces' violence.
Beaten, arrested and detained
Human rights defender Vorn Pao participated in a peaceful protest to secure better wages for garment workers. There he was beaten and arrested, and today is being held in one of the harshest prisons in Cambodia.
This screen grab, from a video by LICADHO, allegedly shows how the Cambodian authorities beat human rights defender Vorn Pao before arresting him
Vorn Pao and 22 other demonstrators have been detained since 2 and 3 January.
In a further breach of human rights, the Cambodian authorities didn't reveal their whereabouts to their families or NGOs - who could provide legal and support services – until today.
Mr Vorn Pao is director of our partner organisation IDEA (Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association).
He was arrested at a peaceful demonstration of garment workers outside a factory that is believed to produce clothing for international brands including GAP, Walmart, Pink and Old Navy.
Mr Theng Soveoun, who works for another partner organisation, CCF (Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community), was also detained.
Human rights defender Vorn Pao after his arrest
A third partner, human rights organisation LICADHO, has been demanding that the authorities reveal the location of the detainees and that families, doctors and lawyers be given access to them.
Today, an official investigation judge called LICADHO lawyers and confirmed that the 23 detainees are being held at the CC3 prison in Kampong Cham province.
LICADHO has now been able to provide food and medical assistance to the 23 detainees being held in this notoriously brutal prison.
New year crackdown
Months of peaceful demonstrations in Cambodia culminated in a violent crackdown by security forces at the beginning of 2014.
Protesters have comprised members of the political opposition demanding Prime Minister Hun Sen's departure due to allegations of electoral fraud, and textile industry workers calling for a living wage of US$160 per month (rejecting a proposed increase from their current wage of US$80 to US$95).
It was this that triggered the reaction from the authorities.
Since 2 January, the police and military have been cracking down on protesters. On Friday 3 January, at least four protesters were shot dead and many injured.
Numerous demonstrators have also been arrested - and while some have been freed again, at least 23 are still behind bars, including the two members of Christian Aid partner staff above.
The government has also banned all mass gatherings in an attempt to prevent further demonstrations.
On Sunday 5 January it was also revealed that the two leaders of the opposition have been asked to appear in court on 14 January for questioning over allegations that they caused public unrest.
Christian Aid and DanChurchAid (our Danish counterpart, with whom we run a joint country programme in Cambodia) denounce the arrest of Cambodian human rights defenders and peaceful protesters and demand their immediate release.
This video shows the military crackdown on 2, 3 and 4 January. The arrest of Vorn Pao appears 1:25 into the clip.
Warning: contains content readers might find disturbing.