‘They shoot anyone on streets, in their homes’

The editor, article 2

In the aftermath of January 2 and 3, 2014 crackdown on workers demanding a wage increase in Cambodia, article 2 joined a group of academics, regional labour and human rights organisations, in a field investigation in Phnom Penh. Of the 38 persons who were taken to hospitals, we spoke with ten of them in their hospital beds at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital (Russian Hospital).

Of these ten, however, two were bystanders. The two were neither garment workers nor part of the worker’s protest, but were sympathetic to the protestors. Though the majority of the victims wounded during the crackdown—who suffered gunshots, fractures, loss of hearing and memory due to severe beatings—are workers, the shooting of persons who were not at all part of the protests, clearly demonstrates that the military police intended to kill or harm anyone on streets and in their homes indiscriminately.


Take the case of a victim, Vonsrei Ora, a 17-year-old a student. At 8am on January 3, she and her friend were riding on a motorbike passing by the Canadia Industrial Park when she was struck by a bullet on her scalp. Had she not lowered her head when her friend asked her to do so, the bullet could have pierced her forehead. She cheated death by inches. When she was interviewed, she recalled how she narrowly escaped death:

I was driving a bicycle with a friend in the area. We were about one or two kilometres away (from where the protest and shooting) when the bullet (coming in front of us) hit my scalp. We were far from the site. I cannot tell exactly how far I was, but I was still hit by bullets. There were policemen but I’m not sure whether the bullet that hit my scalp had come from police nearby or from far.


My friend told me to lower my head down. After I was injured, I asked my friend to take me to a clinic, but the clinic where we first went to refused to admit me. They said their clinic was small and could not treat head injuries. Before we reach the (Russian hospital) we had gone from one clinic to another. All of them refused to admit me. After I was admitted here, more and more wounded victims were taken.

Vonsrei is one of the many bystanders, onlookers and curious Cambodians who were wounded when the police started shooting indiscriminately. Another onlooker, 18-year-old Thet Theng, a garment worker, thought the crackdown on the protesters in the morning of January 3 had finished, so he went out on streets just to see what was going on. The military police caught him, shocked him with their electric batons, and started severely beating him, causing serious trauma in his head. His mother said:

On January 3 at 3pm, he was not among the strikers. He didn’t join the strike when it started (in the morning). It was only in the evening when he went to (the Canadia Park) to see what was happening. There he was hit with electric batons. The military police shocked him first (with their electric baton) and then beat him after that.


He was aware about the violence that already started in the morning, but he thought it was over so he went on street to see.

Another onlooker, 27-yearold Mon Sarorn, a tuk tuk driver, had just dropped his passenger at 10am. On his way, out of his curiosity he stopped near where the workers’ protest was happening. He was just standing, looking at the crowd of workers on protest when the police started shooting.


I was only standing and looking at the strikers. Then, I saw the police started shooting at the strikers. I tried to escape by running away, and at the same time looking back to see if the police were still chasing me. I didn’t know that I was already shot. I just kept on running and running. Then later I feel my legs were numbing. I thought I must have been injured by a stone thrown at the strikers.

After I was injured, I was carried by persons into another tuk tuk towards the hospital. There were three bullets that hit my leg (at his ankle to his left leg, and right knee). The three bullets hit both my legs.

After I was shot, I received a call from my wife. She told me to avoid passing through the streets in Canadia Industrial Park because she heard about the shooting in the area. But actually, I was already injured when she called. So I told her that I was already at the hospital. She was very frightened.

Mon’s wife, Sang Bopha, was also a garment worker. When her husband was undergoing treatment in the hospital, she had to stop working to take care of him. She never left her husband’s bedside at the hospital. She was terminated from her job because she could no longer report to work because she needed to take care of her husband. Now that the couple both lost their means of income, Mon worries on how he can support his wife and their two-year-old child, Chan Leakna.

My family relies on my income. After the incident, I could not drive my tuk tuk and earn money for living. I only get support from people visiting us at the hospital giving donations. I hope I will get better soon so I can go back to earn a living.

Even those who had not been on the streets or joined the protest were shot. This is what happened to 17-year-old Pan Bur, also a garment worker, who was shot in the leg while inside a rented room. At that time, Pan was with her elder sister, also a garment worker, cooking their food. Pan’s right leg was struck by bullets.

We (my sister and I) did not join the strike (on that day, January 3). We were in our rented room. My sister and I heard the shooting. When the police started shooting, the bullets pierced through the wall of our room, and goes into our room.

I was standing inside our room. I did not know that my leg was already hit by bullets. I was wearing jeans at that time. So I did not notice immediately that I was hurt. My sister was cooking at that time.

Our rented room is about one kilometre (from where the shooting/ protest was happening). In the area, there were a lot of police.

Even though Pan and her elder sister were inside their rooms on January 3, they have been supportive of the worker’s demands for a wage increase. Also, since the worker’s strike started gaining momentum in December 2013, they both have been joining the strike and protest occasionally. On January 3 they decided not to join for fear that the protest could turn violent after learning of the violence the day before, January 2, when the workers were beaten on the streets. They also notice the increasing police presence. For fear of their safety and to avoid violence, they said of their decision to stay at home.

Many workers collapsed and lost consciousness. They (the policemen) just threw them unto the truck. We thought it was not acceptable so some workers decided to join the strike (on January 3).

This is our commitment. We saw what happened and we felt that we have to do something. We first thought of joining the protest on the street that day (January 3); however, after seeing the policemen on streets, we were scared. We did not join on that day.

We thought we will just come back. We were afraid of violence. When we saw the policemen, we decided not to join.


Like Pan and her elder sister, although Thet had since been joining the worker’s strike since December 2013, on January 3, he decided not to join fearing violence as well. He joined the worker’s protest occasionally, and he was very supportive of his fellow garment worker’s demand to have their minimum wage increased to USD160. When he was interviewed on his hospital bed, it was obvious that Thet suffers memory loss and has had fragmented memories as he speaks. He could not remember the name of factory he was working for, the name of union he was a member of; however, he could clearly understand and could recall reasons why he must support the protest.


It is appropriate for us (garment workers) to demand for wage increase because USD80 a month is not enough. If you buy food, that is just enough, it is finished. If we get USD160 it is better.

In the last two weeks of December 2013, I did join the strike. I went to the factory for work, left my bag and joined the strikers. But on the day I was beaten (January 3), I did not join the protest. I just wanted to see. I thought (the crackdown) was finished.

Thet’s mother, also a manual labour worker in their province in Kampong Cham, had to travel all the way from her village to Phnom Penh to look for her son after learning from her relatives about the crackdown, and when they could not contact him.


I was so scared that day. I tried to call him. I cried a lot when I learned what happened to him. We have a relative leaving close by, and they tried to look for him. But they could not find him. It was our relative who found him at the hospital.

He was sent to another hospital first; then, after two days he was discharged after being given some medicines. But the pain persisted, so we decided to take him here (hospital) again. He is waiting (for his skull) operation.

But other siblings, Losh Sao and his younger sister, both garment workers, joined other workers in their protest on streets of Canadia Industrial Park even though they knew full well it could turn violent. They did it as they tried to get over their fear inside upon seeing the presence of the military police. In the factory where Losh and his sister work, despite the risk and danger by requiring their workers to work due to ongoing protests on streets, their employers still compelled them to show up in person.

The employers did not require the workers to work; however, all the workers were required to have their thumbprints scanned as proof of their work and that they were present before they would let them go home. If they did not do it, they would either be terminated or their absences deducted from their salary. The factory’s requirement resulted in many workers being exposed to unnecessary risk and danger.

When I was going to work on January 3, I couldn’t concentrate walking on the streets. I have to go to work otherwise I will not get paid. I need to show up and have my thumbprints scanned at the factory as proof that we did our work. So I get paid. If we don’t do that, they consider us absent and will deduct it from our salary.

I was too scared of the military police. After the January 2 incident, I could not sleep. I was awake the whole night. On that day, I heard people screaming, shouting and the military police were chasing people to their rented rooms.

The decision by some employers, however, to pay workers their salary even though they were not working, obviously did not arise on humanitarian grounds. In fact, days before the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC) issued an announcement to all their members that, to protect the properties of the factory, it is better for them to close their factory. Thus, by compelling their workers to register their thumbprints in person at the factory knowing full well the danger their workers would face, explains clearly that the factory property was worth more than the lives of their workers.

But Losh and his sister took this time off from work by joining with the other workers on streets soon after registering their thumbprints. Their actions, however, explains the determination amongst garment workers in Cambodia to both keep their job at the same time support the ongoing demands for wage increase.

On January 3, I went back to my factory to work. After I left the factory, I joined the strike with other workers. I was about to go back home, when I was shot. I was on my way to my rented room when the military police, which was positioned on the roof of the building, shot me.


I joined the strike since morning at 8am. At 10am, the police started the crackdown. They chased the workers into their rented rooms. I was shot on site (where the protest was happening).

I joined the strike on January 2 and 3 because I want the minimum wage increased to USD160. That is not only for me, but for everyone. The rent is high, cost of food is increasing and our salary is very low – Losh

I also joined the strike, but I was in another area. When I heard about what happened to my brother, I suddenly went to see him in the hospital. There were police around. They were observing/guarding the roadblocks (along Veng Sreng road).


Since I have commitment with other workers as well, I decided not to go back to work. I was not working on that day – Losh’s sister

Like Vonsrei, Losh also cheated death by inches when shots fired by snipers at him from behind hit his left ear, not his head. At that time also, the military police started shooting at anyone on streets, shooting indiscriminately at those in their homes; chasing away and arresting anyone they could get their hands on. Losh could also remember vividly seeing one of the protestors dying from gunshot wounds in front of him. (See related story: ‘Help us find justice for my son, and others’)

I saw one of the protestor who was shot dying on the street. He was bleeding profusely. I felt sorry for that person because he was only demanding for increase of minimum wage, and the police shot him just like that.

I feel better now. When I also saw the video of this person dying, because somebody had taken a video of it too, I could not stand looking at the video again. It is too much for me. I don’t know the person because we come from different factories.

Other garment workers who were on protest suffered fractures, loss of sight, memory and hearing, when the military police assaulted and severely beat them as they chased them away or managed to get their hands on them. It was clear to article 2 from the victims it had spoken to that they were neither posing a danger nor were they carrying weapons capable of causing severe harm to security forces.

In fact, the January 2 incident, where the military severely beat, arrested and later detained workers at the Yakjin Factory and Veng Sreng Road had prompted other workers to come out on the streets to show their support to other workers. (See related story: How and why the 23 protestors were arrested, prosecuted) The violent dispersal and use of excessive force by the security forces themselves provoked other workers. One of the victims who suffered gunshot wounds, Ham Pun, recalled what provoked the workers, and why they had to defend themselves.

Many workers were injured on January 2. It was cruel. The workers were beaten by the police with some electric batons. Many workers fell unconscious, and they just threw them onto the truck. We think what we have seen was not acceptable. So we decided to join the strike on January 3rd.

We were not expecting the violence because we came with empty hands. We were only demanding for minimum wage so we did not expect this cruel treatment. We did not have weapons with us.

At first we were empty-handed but when the police came, we felt we needed to and started to defend ourselves. We got rocks (after we saw the policemen were beating) because if the police catch us, they will beat us.


Like Ham, two other workers, Pok Sopheak and Ran Sarath, also suffered gunshot wounds in their legs. Pok had gunshot wounds both of his ankles and right thigh, Ran had gunshot wound to his right knee. Another worker, Pi Yong, was lying in his hospital bed when he was interviewed but did not show his injuries. All the four victims were treated in a crowded hospital room with other patients. Other workers who were undergoing treatment, like Mon Sarorn, Vonsrei Ora and Pan Bur, had to stay in their bed by the lobby of the hospital or in benches outside the hospital due to overcrowding.

When asked about what they could recall on January 3, Ham said that:

What I know was that on January 2, the workers had already started the strike. They held peaceful demonstrations. They were just dancing outside the factory. There were not so many people. They just gather outside the factory and danced together.

And then at 2pm or 3pm, there were a lot of military came. A few trucks, and then the military came down from their trucks, and started the crackdown by beating the workers. And the workers got angry, so they started to block the street on January 3.

On January 3, the deployment of the military police was divided into different groups. Some were on the rooftop of the building shooting the people to the ground. They had different duties and they were positioned in different places. Some of them were holding electric batons. One of them was beaten by the military on the street.

Actually, all the workers were together. And when the military came, they started shooting at the workers. The workers were running. I was caught by the police and the bullet went through my thigh, and it exited and hit another person. The strikers were also the one who helped me going to the hospital.


Ham’s recollection of the January 3 crackdown was shared by three other victims, Pi Yong, Pok Sopheak and Ran Sarath. Also, another worker, Moun Sokmean, 29 years old, remembers how indiscriminately the military police were arresting anyone they could get their hands on, chasing them away and shooting in all directions.

I saw the police started beating, shooting at the protestors in all direction, and chasing the protestors. About three to four police officers came to me and started beating me severely to my back, face and head.

While they were beating me, I pleaded to the police to stop beating me. They beat me, pushed me hard and I nearly lost my consciousness. The policemen used a stick in beating me. I told the policemen: “Sir, if you keep on beating me, I might die.”

I also thought to myself that if I can’t escape, I might die. So, I ran away and pleaded to the villagers to help me hide.

After the incident, Moun went home to his village. At first, he decided not to go to the hospital for treatment; however, when he started vomiting blood, feeling dizzy, and he sensed that his left eye could not see properly, he decided to go back to Phnom Penh to get treatment. When he was interviewed, the swelling in his head, back and bruises in his neck were still visible. Like Thet, Moun underwent observation from the trauma he suffered to his head, face and body due to severe beatings.

I thought my eyeballs were severely damage. Sometimes, my eyesight in both of my eyes is blurring. I had to put patches to my forehead, and right eye next to my eye socket because my head is aching.

On January 22 and 30, Moun and Thet were discharged from the hospital respectively. Thet was discharged after undergoing a craniectomy to drain fluids from his head. Moun and Thet were among the six victims suffering from light to serious head traumas.