Cambodian union leaders arrested in casino labor dispute

US Embassy calls action ‘troubling’ and urges government to protect workers’ free speech.
2022.01.04
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Cambodian union leaders arrested in casino labor dispute Cambodian union leader Chhim Sithar is shown under arrest in Phnom Penh, Jan. 4, 2022.
Citizen Journalist

Cambodian police on Tuesday arrested three labor union leaders wanted on charges of leading workers’ protests at a casino and hotel in the capital Phnom Penh.

Chhim Sithar, leader of the union at the NagaWorld casino, was taken into custody by police in plain clothes who surrounded her as she got out of a car at the protest site near Cambodia’s National Assembly building.

Two other union leaders, Sok Kongkea and Sok Narith, were detained separately on Tuesday. All three had been in hiding after being charged by authorities with inciting unlawful protests, and were sent to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court after their arrest.

The strike at the NagaWorld casino and hotel, now in its 18th day, has drawn hundreds of workers since Dec. 18 and the dismissal by managers of more than a thousand employees. The protesters are demanding that 365 of those laid off be rehired.

Cambodian police on Monday arrested 17 striking workers who called for the release of colleagues detained last week by police. Pregnant women were among those arrested. The workers were taken by truck to the headquarters of Phnom Penh municipal police, sources told RFA.

On Dec. 31, authorities detained nine protesters and a motor-tricycle driver, holding six in custody and charging them on Monday in municipal court with incitement to cause serious social unrest, sources said.

The U.S. Embassy in Cambodia in a statement Tuesday said governmental authorities should respect the workers’ right to free speech.

“We are following closely the troubling arrests of NagaWorld union members for their peaceful expression and urge authorities to hear citizens, not silence them. Freedom of speech, assembly and association are guaranteed in the Cambodian Constitution,” the embassy said.

Workers are now gathering to demand the release of Chhim Sithor and the other union leaders and NagaWorld employees detained by the authorities, casino worker Chim Ratha told RFA on Tuesday. “We are Cambodian workers working on our own land, and our rights and labor are being violated and exploited by foreign employers,” she said.

“We have followed legal procedures by trying to negotiate for more than eight months, and so far we have peacefully protested for more than 10 days. But there has been no solution, and instead we have been arrested, threatened and intimidated,” she said.

Reached for comment, Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Ey Rin told RFA he could not discuss the matter as authorities and the court had just begun to work on the case. But Ny Sokha, president of the Cambodian rights monitoring group Adhoc, said that NagaWorld employees’ right to protest is guaranteed by Cambodian laws.

“In a democratic society, the authorities must not take measures restricting the people’s right to peacefully protest,” Ny Sokha said.

“The authorities always say they are acting in the name of public order, but they are responsible both for maintaining public order and for ensuring the exercise of citizens’ legal rights and freedoms at the same time,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Cambodian Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Richard Finney.

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