Monday, September 28, 2009

Tire burning protest in front of RFA office following the firing of 4 employees and preventing them from protesting

Fired RFA employees burnt a tire to protest in front of RFA office (Photo: Khmer Sthabna)

26 September 2009

By Sopheak and Sopheap
Khmer Sthabna
Translated from Khmer by Socheata
Click here to read the article in Khmer

The firing of 4 Radio Free Asia (RFA) employees and the work contract reduction for a fifth employee without providing a reasonable explanation, the prevention of these employees to protest against these firings and their evictions out of the RFA office on 25 September led to a tire burning protest. The protesters were wearing mask to symbolize the fact their freedom of speech was silenced by the administrators of RFA, a radio station that is supported by the US government.

The 4 former RFA employees gathered in front of the RFA office, located on Street No. 240 (behind the royal palace), at 7PM on 25 September 2009 to burn the tire in protest.

Phan Sophat (aka Ath Bonny) claimed in the evening of 25 September at the protest location that 4 employees were fired one after another on 25 September 2009. They are: Mrs. Sean Sophorn, Mr. Huy Vannak, Mr. Um Vun, Mr. Thai Sothea. Phan Sophat said that his 1-year work contract was cut down to 3-month instead. RFA administrators did not allow these 5 employees to lodge their protest (no comment?) and security guards walked them out of their offices.

Phan Sophat told reporters that silencing their freedom to protest is likened to the situation in Tuol Sleng (S-21) jail under the Khmer Rouge regime. Furthermore, even under the KR, they allowed the prisoners to criticize somewhat, but in the case of the sacked RFA employees, they were not allowed to comment on their firing at all. Such action is very shameful because RFA belongs to the US.

Thai Sothea, the RFA Khmer Service website admin who was also fired, indicated: “They (Kem Sos, the RFA Khmer Service director, and US administrators) did not allow us to lodge a protest at all.” Phan Sophat added that the 5 RFA employees suffer from injustice and they sent a letter to the US embassy in Cambodia, a protest letter to the Cambodian ministry of Labor, to the unions, and they also sued for employment termination without reasonable cause.

Phan Sophat also added that: “Originally, Seang Sophorn was improperly fired, in violation of the labor law, i.e. she was only informed verbally about her firing and no advance notice was provided to her. Such action is a violation of law and the human rights. So we helped her protest by telling [RFA’s administrators] that such firing is improper, RFA should set the example. If I did something bad, how can I go interview people? How can I tell others what to do? If people ask me about the law, how can I answer them? Therefore, [RFA] cannot afford to take such bad action.”

Phan Sophat indicated also that, with many employees protesting, RFA decided to fire 2 additional employees. As for himself, Phan Sophat said that he was not fired, he was told earlier to continue his 1-year contract, but in the morning of 25 September, he was informed that his contract was reduced to 3-month instead without any explanation provided to him, i.e. “no comment, no opinion, no discussion.” In this case, Norm Thompson (?), the US RFA vice-chairman, did no respect human rights and the labor law.

Phan Sophat added that RFA journalists usually report about the firing of factory workers by owners who violate the law and human rights, but when it is RFA’s turn to violate the law, how can he interview anybody? Phan Sophat regrets the action taken by RFA which serves as a forum in the past 12 years (from 1997 to 24 September 2009), and he said that the fired RFA employees dedicated themselves to their work and they even risked their own lives in the past when the situation was still unstable, they did all these because they love freedom.

At 7:30PM on 25 September, the 4 RFA employees fired dropped their protest letter to Ambassador Carol Rodley at the US embassy in Phnom Penh. They also met with John Johnson, the embassy spokesman on that same evening and they requested him to help resolve this problem with RFA administrators who fired them.


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