Bail Refused for NagaWorld Strikers

NagaWorld unionists chant at the police who closed in and surrounded them (photo by Gerald Flynn)

Top-level officials’ meeting fails to make progress

PHNOM PENH--Eight detained union members and leaders of the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU) were denied  bail by the Phnom Penh Appeal Court on March 10.

Rights group  Licadho said the eight were returned to Correctional Centres 1 and 2 in Phnom Penh, where they are in pre-trial detention on charges of incitement.

The eight were arrested in December and January while taking part in a strike against NagaWorld casino. They are union leader Chhim Sithar, union secretary Chhim Sokhorn, and unionists Hay Sopheap, Kleang Soben, Ry Sovandy, Sun Srey Pich and Touch Sereymeas, as well as former union member Sok Narith.

On March 9, there was a high-level meeting between senior officials from the police, courts, and ministries organized by Interior Minister Sar Kheng to discuss the dispute but nothing fruitful has resulted yet.

Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she was concerned over Cambodian authorities' use of COVID-19 restrictions to further erode democratic and civic space, including as a pretext to break a lawful strike by casino workers.

Speaking during the 49th session of the Human Rights Council on March 9, she said her office witnessed recent violence by authorities, who forced women strikers on to buses and away from a strike site. In contrast to measures applied to the general public, strikers have been arbitrarily detained and forced to test multiple times for COVID-19.

"I call on the authorities to respect the right to peaceful assembly and engage in dialogue to address the strikers' legitimate requests," she said.

An Sokkhoeurn, Cambodian Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said it was wrong to state that the casino workers’ strike is lawful.

"We note with great dismay that Madam High Commissioner was ill-advised and selective when it comes to the situation in Cambodia," he said.

He said that the court had declared it illegal since last December. Residents had complained of being disturbed by the month-long unlawful protest. Authorities exercised utmost restraint and even knelt down to plead their compliance with the Covid-19 protocols.

“At least 130 protesters had tested positive. Madam High Commissioner, is a proscribed protest disrupting public order and abusing public health measures a constitutional exercise of the peaceful assembly?” he said.

Licadho said three more union members – Choub Channath, Sao Sambath and Seng Vannarith – were also in pre-trial detention after being arrested in February Bon charges of obstructing enforcement measures under the newly passed Covid-19 law.

Despite these arrests, union members have continued their strike to call for NagaWorld to respect labor rights and reinstate improperly dismissed workers, even as the government has arrested the union’s leaders, harassed striking workers and detained more than 100 strikers in government quarantine facilities using the new Covid-19 law in recent months, Licadho added.

On International Women’s Day, the US State Department and the German Embassy in Cambodia called on all parties to the dispute to enter into peaceful negotiations and drop charges against unionists, mostly women.

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