Cambodia: Trade Union Leader Imprisoned for “Causing Social Unrest”


Free Rong Chhun! Down with the bonapartist regime of Hun Sen!


By Laurence Humphries, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency, 28 August 2021,




Rong Chhun, a prominent trade union leader, had been campaigning for land rights for many Cambodian poor peasants who say that Vietnam is encroaching on their land.


“The Appeal Court on Wednesday denied the bail request of union leader Rong Chhun who has been charged with “incitement to cause social unrest” in relation to a border issue. Chhun, the president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, was arrested on the night of July 31 after he went to meet residents in Trapaing Phlong commune, in Tbong Khmum province’s Ponhea Kraek district. A resident claimed Cambodia had lost land to Vietnam and the Vietnamese authorities had pushed residents 200m into Cambodian land. On August 1, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged him with incitement to cause social unrest under Article 495 of the Criminal Code. The Appeal Court’s Wednesday decision came as roughly 20 civil society activists gathered outside the court appealing for his release and the dropping of all charges against him.” [1]


“The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on August 18 sentenced Rong Chhun, head of the Cambodia Watchdog Council, to two years in prison and fined him two million riel ($500) for incitement to cause serious disorder to social security. Two other activists were also convicted on the same charges. Sor Kanika and Ton Nimol, who were arrested for demanding Chhun’s release, were sentenced to 20 months incarceration and fined two million riel each, according to the court spokesman Plong Sophal. “The court also ordered the three accused to pay compensation to the Cambodian Border Affairs Committee, the plaintiff, in the amount of 400 million riel [$100,000],” Sophal said.


Chhun was arrested in July of last year for posting claims to Facebook that Cambodia had lost land to Vietnam, citing comments by villagers. Chhun’s defence lawyer Choung Chou Ngy, who also defended Sor Kanika, said the sentence was unjust and he was discussing an appeal with his clients. After the verdict was issued, some foreign diplomats expressed dismay over the ruling, saying the sentence was unjust and that the decision violated Cambodia’s Constitution, which ensures freedom of expression.” [2]


The verdict of course was expected. The courts, both civil and criminal, are controlled by the Hun sen Bonapartist government which has turned Cambodia into a virtual police state where all opposition is either banned or outlawed. Hun Sen, the former Stalinist, is leader of a bourgeois capitalist regime which stamps out any opposition to his rule as many political parties and pro-democracy activists have found out.


“Rong Chhun is one of Cambodia’s most tireless defenders of labour rights,” said Naly Pilorge, director of LICADHO, a Cambodian human rights group. “His continued imprisonment at the height of a global pandemic needlessly puts his health at risk and he should be released and all charges against him dropped.” Rong Chhun was arrested from his home on July 31 last year and has been in prison ever since. A month after his arrest, Rong Chhun, who is president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions and a member of civil society group the Cambodian Watchdog Council, was charged with “incitement to commit a felony or cause social unrest” based on a social media post about the border demarcation between Cambodia and Vietnam.


The border has been a sensitive issue in Cambodia, where anti-Vietnamese sentiment remains strong, since the fall of the Khmer Rouge more than 40 years ago. The opposition has sought to capitalise on anti-Vietnamese feeling, accusing the government under Prime Minister Hun Sen of being too lenient towards Cambodia’s wealthier neighbour. “If the court is independent, I believe it will drop charges against my uncle. He did not cause chaos or incite anyone,” said Rong Vichea, 28, Rong Chhun’s nephew who is worried his uncle could be infected with COVID while in prison.” [3]




No Proper Democratic Rights in Cambodia




Many activists campaigning for democratic rights have been arrested and are languishing in Cambodian jails. It is the policy of Hun Sen to deal with all his opponents in this way. He ensured in the 2018 General election that opposition pro-democracy parties were banned and their leaders either jailed or escaped into exile. Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won all 125 seats. The result speaks for itself.


“Cambodia’s government under long-term leader Hun Sen has cracked down on the opposition and critical voices, outlawing the opposition party in the run-up to the 2018 elections and putting its leader on trial for treason. A 2020 report from the United Nations human rights office found “civic and democratic space in Cambodia had been shrinking”, and the work of human rights and civil society organisations subjected to “undue interference, intimidation or harassment”. Licadho, a human rights group, says 19 activists, artists and human rights defenders were arrested in the weeks following Rong Chhun’s arrest. Sar Kanika was detained a month after Rong Chhun at a peaceful rally calling for his release, while Ton Mimol was picked up at an October rally outside the Chinese embassy. Rong Chhun denied the charges against him when he was put on trial in January, and his supporters were angry about Wednesday’s court ruling.” [4]


In 2020 Hun Sen had a leader of a bourgeois-democratic party arrested and jailed. Trade union and labour leaders are constantly under attack for defending the rights of workers and poor peasants and establishing basic democratic rights.


“A court has begun its “treason” trial for opposition leader Kem Sokha more than two years after his arrest. Almost no journalists and no non-governmental organisations were allowed into the courtroom on Wednesday, drawing criticism from civil society groups and the press. Kem Sokha was arrested in a midnight raid in September 2017 after a public speech he gave in 2013. In the speech, he talked about receiving support from the US to create change in the country from a grassroots level. He was released in November last year but barred from leaving the country and engaging in politics. The charges against Kem Sokha led to the dissolution of his CNRP in November 2017 ahead of national elections in July 2018. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party took all 125 seats.” [5]




Bring down the bonapartist regime!




The RCIT calls for the immediate release of Rong Chhun. The only way out of the capitalist misery and oppression is the overthrow of the bonapartist Hun Sen regime by a revolutionary uprising of the workers and poor peasants. Such a revolution will open the road to establish a truly socialist republic as part of a federation of socialist republics throughout South-East Asia.


* Free Rong Chunn, defend democratic rights and the right to practice and organise as a trade union. Reinstate all parties that have been banned and proscribed.


* Establish armed self-defence guards to protect workers, trade unionists and communities against the police and the state especially at demonstrations where they use plastic bullets, water cannon and tear gas.


* Nationalise all major capitalist and imperialist corporate entities; bring them under workers control without compensation. For a public works plan to rebuild the country and to eliminate unemployment.


* For a revolutionary constituent assembly.


* For a workers and poor peasant government based on popular councils and militias.


* Build revolutionary workers parties nationally and internationally! Join the RCIT!






1) Rong Chhun denied bail | Phnom Penh Post


2) Chhun sentenced to two years | Phnom Penh Post


3) Cambodia union leader faces court verdict as crackdown continues | Human Rights News | Al Jazeera


4) Cambodia jails union leader for two years for ‘incitement’ | Labour Rights News | Al Jazeera


5) Cambodia: ‘Treason’ trial for opposition leader begins | Cambodia News | Al Jazeera