[JURIST] A Cambodian court on Friday convicted 23 workers and activists for inciting violence during a mass garment workers’ strike but suspended their jail sentence, which has caused a lot of controversy and international scrutiny. The ruling reverses the appeals court’s decision in February, which refused the release [JURIST report] of the workers and activists facing criminal charges. It has been reported [VOA report] that international brands have scrutinized the decision due to the government’s lack of influence in improving conditions for garment workers. Brands such as H&M, Puma and the Gap have threatened to outsource jobs from Cambodia if efforts are not made to prevent further human rights violations. Dave Welsh, a representative from the US based labor group Solidarity Center [advocacy website], stated in regards to the ruling, “[t]he main thing is there’s just an enormous amount of relief—first of all with them, with their families, and with the trade union and human rights community in general—that they are going to be freed.”
The political atmosphere in Cambodia has been tense since last year’s elections, resulting in a crackdown on protesters. In January the International Labour Organization (ILO) [official website] called for cooperation amongst all parties involved in escalating violence in Cambodia, demanding a release of detained union strikers and a government probe into anti-protest police tactics [JURIST report]. Earlier that month the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights urged [JURIST report] Cambodian authorities to exercise restraint when dealing with protestors. Days beforehand Cambodia banned rallies and marches [Al Jazeera report] in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, and authorities removed more than 1,000 anti-government protesters [BBC report] from the capital the same day.