PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Almost three dozen security guards fired by the U.S. Embassy in Cambodia for allegedly sharing pornography on smartphones they used for work held a protest Tuesday demanding proper compensation from their former employer.
The 32 protesting guards said they had been sacked without a full explanation and not according to the law, and placards they held complained of injustice. One held a portrait of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been very critical of the United States as he burnishes his nationalist credentials ahead of a general election next month.
The protesters acknowledged that some pornographic images had been shared but argued that it had been on a private chat group they had set up on Facebook Messenger and not the official embassy chat group. Reports in Cambodia media had said some images featured people under the age of 18, but one placard declared the allegation unproven.
A spokesman for the embassy, David Josar, said it did not comment on internal personnel matters but took the problem of child pornography seriously and also respected the right to peaceful protest. An embassy official accepted a petition from the group.
The protesters claimed the phones at issue were their own property, not the embassy's. They also accused the embassy of violating their rights by searching their phones.
The guards said their terms of employment at the embassy ranged from five to 20 years. They said since they got fired in late March, they have filed several complaints with the embassy, but had not received a satisfactory response. Until the matter was fairly resolved, they said, they would continue to protest.
"We are here today because we think that our rights have been abused by the United States, which is a big country and regarded as the father of democracy in the world," said 38-year-old Im Ra.
Another protester, Nhim Sophorn, said he thought the U.S. Embassy may have wanted to reduce its staffing without paying compensation, so used the excuse about sharing pornographic images to fire personnel without the obligation for further payments.
"We need justice and hope that the U.S. Embassy will solve our problem fairly," he said.