NagaWorld Strikers Are Arrested as They Were Returning from Being Tested for COVID-19

Two strikers who had been protesting at the NagaWorld hotel and casino were arrested during the evening on Feb. 5 while they were at the COVID-19 test site of the Koh Pich Exhibition Center. Photo from CCHR's Twitter

The arrest warrant states obstruction to the implementation of the measures to prevent the spread of the disease, according to a Phnom Penh Municipal police spokesman

PHNOM PENH--The Cambodian authorities have reported that two strikers who had been protesting at the NagaWorld hotel and casino were arrested during the evening on Feb. 5 while they were at the COVID-19 test site of the Koh Pich Exhibition Center.

However, according to labor and rights groups, the police actually arrested six people, then released three of them and the situation of the sixth person is unknown.

Phnom Penh Municipal police spokesman San Sokseyha on Feb. 6 said that strikers Choup Channat and Seng Vannrith, were arrested on Feb. 5 for obstruction to the implementation of the medical authorities’ measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which falls under Article 11 of the Law on Measures to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19.

“I said only two have been detained,” he said in a phone interview on Feb. 6. “If six people were arrested, I would tell you six.”

This arrest was made in accordance with the order and arrest warrant of the prosecutor of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Sokseyha said, adding that Channat and Vannrith are being interrogated at the Commissariat of the Phnom Penh Municipal Police and that further action will be set according to the procedures of the court orders.

The arrests took place at around 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 5 at Koh Pich as the protesters were on their way home after having gone to be tested for COVID-19.

The Labor Rights Supported Union (LRSU) posted on their Facebook page on Feb. 5 that six strikers had been arrested: Choup Channat, Ean Kunthea, Sao Sambath, Seng Vannrith, Touch Danet and Uk Sophorn.

Khun Tharo, program manager at the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights (CENTRAL), said on Feb. 6 that three people had been released while the situation of one person—Sao Sambath—remains unknown as he had not seen an arrest warrant for Sambath and his family has lost track of him.

“As of now, we don’t know where he is or whether he has been released or not,” Tharo said in interview. “His family doesn’t know too. His family will be filing a complaint because his situation is unknown.”

According to Tharo, it is difficult to explain why the three persons who were later released were arrested in the first place. “There were in the same tuk-tuk, so perhaps, the three of them were taken along to avoid the spread of the information,” he said.

Around 1,000 NagaWorld employees have been on strike for roughly 50 days, demanding the release of their eight representatives from prison and the settlement of a labor dispute with the company. On Jan. 28, the Ministry of Health ordered all NagaWorld strikers to be tested for COVID-19 to prevent the spread of the disease after one woman striker was identified as being infected with the Omicron variant.

The ministry had ordered that all strikers be tested at the Koh Pich Center within three days from Feb. 4. However, the strikers asked to delay till Feb. 5, which is the day the arrests were made.

"Individuals who do not implement these health and administrative measures will be punished in accordance with the law on preventive measures against the spread of COVID-19 and other severe and dangerous contagious diseases in force," the ministry said in its statement.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of rights group Licadho, said the arrests were unreasonable as the strikers did not seem to disrupt or obstruct the medical authorities in implementing the COVID-19 preventive measures, adding that the arrests were made with an intention of repression and threats on the strikers.

“The workers only asked for a postponement for taking the test, from Feb. 4 to 5,” he said in interview on Feb. 6. “So, on Feb. 5, they came to have their samples taken…They did not seem to disrupt the measures. They also practiced social distancing.”

Sam Ath added that the Cambodian authorities should release the three newly-arrested strikers and the other eight union representatives to ease the tension between the strikers and the authorities, and that proper and effective negotiation should be held.

“The strikers’ request has not been responded but instead the arrest continues, so the strike will take a longer time to end,” he said. “What is important is that the relevant authorities should find a solution with transparency and justice. The delay will only lead to further criticism.”

Khun Tharo of CENTRAL said that these additional arrests show repression against the strikers with an intent to disperse the gathering and the peaceful strike.

“The practice is not fair because the authorities only target the strikers when it comes to implementing the COVID-19 measures,” he said. “There are no measures implemented on wedding receptions or any gatherings in supermarkets. This is an unequal application of health measures and is intended to prevent the strike.”

The allegations that the strikers were obstructing the COVID-19 preventive measures does not have a sufficient legal basis to charge them as they only tried to find solutions and exercise their rights, Tharo said, calling the arrest a serious violation of labor rights.

“When inequality and irregularity occur, there is an intention not to want to settle the dispute,” he said. “A strike is a last resort to put pressure on employers to come to the negotiating table.”

Tharo added that the action implemented by the authorities reflected the weakness of the legal implementation in Cambodia as powerful and influential companies continue to violate the human rights and labor rights of their employees.

“It seems like the authorities do not have any power over those companies,” he said. “This case is a bad example, and unfairness will remain in the Cambodian society.”

As of the afternoon of Feb. 6, the Phnom Penh Municipal Police was attempting to implement arrest warrants on four other NagaWorld hotel and casino strikers on similar charges of obstructing the implementation of measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The four women are Eng Srey Bo, Kheng Chenda, Meng Kanika and Meng Kanika.

Phoung Vantha contributed to the story

Related Articles