Cambodia: 16 more labour rights defenders arrested, including union presidentEvent
- Initial Date
- Jan 3, 2022
- Event Description
Striking casino workers resumed their protests outside Phnom Penh’s NagaWorld casino this afternoon following the arrests of 10 people on New Year’s Eve, as police were seen immediately arresting at least one more protester.
A fire truck arrived at the scene just after the arrest around 2:30 p.m., as protesters yelled they feared it would be used to spray them.
“It’s an injustice,” one woman was heard yelling near the casino. “Why are you helping a foreign company suppress workers?”
“Please release them,” she said as a police van drove past.
Around 300 workers are seeking reinstatement following layoffs of more than 1,300 NagaWorld workers last year, including union representatives.
They began protesting last month, and were joined by some current casino workers as crowds grew to around 1,000 on some days.
On New Year’s Eve, police cracked down on an evening protest, arresting eight people from the union’s office as well as a tuk-tuk driver and a worker outside NagaWorld 2.
Six were questioned in court over the weekend. Union president Chhim Sithar said on Monday that four of them had been released today but the six were still held at the court without knowing the charges they faced.
“We know from the beginning these tactics will be used to intimidate the members from stopping the strike,” she said.
Reporters saw no protests over the weekend.
More fire trucks were seen arriving at the scene around 2:40 p.m.
“We are coming to do nonviolent protests, but they come like they are going to war,” one worker said in a live video broadcast by protesters.
Ma Chettra, an official at NGO the Cambodian Youth Network, said one of the arrested women, Luch Romduol, had called him saying there were 14 protesters together in a police van. She believed they were being taken to the municipal police station. One of the 14 was a man, and another was a pregnant woman, Chettra said Romduol had told him.
Near NagaWorld, around 300-400 workers continued their protest, while the park in front of the NagaWorld 1 building was cleared.
A video from strikers shared on Facebook by Central’s Khun Tharo shows authorities grabbing women by their arms as they link arms to resist, with authorities dragging them outside the camera’s view. One woman can be heard shouting, “oh my god!” District guards appear to grab for phones, and the cameras shake uncontrollably.
In another video posted by a strike participant, an arrested woman films inside a police van, saying she is one of 14 people inside the back of a truck with pinhole-sized windows.
“We are the strikers, and now we have been arrested and placed in a cage,” a woman is heard saying in the video. “Help and share with all of the people. This is a grave injustice, what have we done wrong? Even a pregnant woman is arrested and pulled in and beaten.”
“Why, when we just come to protest? Why do the state and the forces arrest us? … This is very cruel. What have we done wrong? Now we do not know where they will take us.”
One of several hundred protest participants said their colleagues had been arrested near the roundabout on the corner of Sisowath Quay and Sihanouk Blvd., known for the statue of dictionary author Chuon Nath, as they tried to join the fenced-off strike site next to the Australian Embassy on National Assembly Blvd.
Strike participants were seated behind red and white barricades set up by police, making noise with plastic horns and homemade shakers of empty plastic bottles and gravel. As a worker read the strike demands into a megaphone, they cheered and sounded the instruments.
Panha, a NagaWorld employee laid off after four years there, said he was not scared of anything, even knowing his colleagues were arrested.
“This is disappointing. I will keep coming until they arrest all of us,” he said.
One striking woman shouted to reporters that she would keep coming until the company offered a solution.
“If we do not come, we will die. The foreigners are working inside so easily, but we are not like them.”
“This makes us stronger. When we are scared, no one is coming [to help],” she continued.
Chan Pel, 43, said she had been working for NagaWorld for 22 years before she was laid off in May. She said she had joined the strike daily and would continue to do so.
“I’m not scared even if they arrested our friends. I’m hurting,” she said. “This encourages me to come here more and more. My heart is burning. I won’t stop coming until we get the solution.”
Riot police moved back at about 3 p.m., following the arrests of 14 union members.
Naga union president Chhim Sithar said a total of 15 union members had been arrested on Monday afternoon according to strike participants, an update from earlier reports that 14 people were arrested. She told VOD earlier Monday afternoon that she planned to participate in the strike this week.
Strikers departed around 6 p.m. chanting “we will come back tomorrow,” after 15 more protesters were arrested Monday afternoon and the Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor issued a warrant naming nine union members in an investigation.
The prosecutor named nine NagaWorld union members as suspects for incitement charges for their role in the 17-day strike against alleged labor rights violations by Hong Kong-listed casino group NagaCorp.
Six of the nine workers named by the prosecutor were arrested on New Year’s Eve and charged on Monday with incitement under articles 494 and 495 of the criminal procedure law, according to human rights group Licadho. A total of 10 people were picked up in the New Year’s Eve crackdown, but four were released on Monday morning, union president Chhim Sithar told VOD earlier Monday.
Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesperson San Sokseyha said Monday afternoon that he had yet to receive a report about the day’s arrests.
Municipal court spokesperson Y Rin said the case of six people arrested on Friday was in the hands of the investigating judge.
As strikers headed toward the Aeon Mall I parking lot, Police quickly removed red-and-white barricades without taking any action against the participants.
Patrick Lee, a legal adviser for labor group Central, told VOD that the authorities’ crackdown on the strike was a tactic to suppress the union members’ rights, and called for the detained strikers’ release.
“These arrests appear to be little more than a blatant attempt to dissuade peacefully striking workers from exercising their fundamental rights,” he said. “They have been arrested as a means to try and silence the voices of others. These workers should all be immediately released without charge.”
After more than two weeks of protests and more than 20 arrests, the head of the NagaWorld union attempted to join an ongoing strike outside the Phnom Penh casino this afternoon despite an active arrest warrant against her.
Just before 4 p.m., however, Chhim Sithar was arrested by police officers on National Assembly Road, outside the Australian Embassy, as she entered barricades cordoning off the workers’ rally.
In addition to uniformed officers, undercover officers also pounced on her, and pulled her into a white sedan.
The strike and protest, which began last month, relate to the termination of more than 1,300 workers from the casino, including, in particular, top union leaders at NagaWorld.
Sithar, president of the Labor Rights Supported Union, was among those fired, and had been largely absent at rallies as authorities deemed the strike illegal. She was among nine names listed in an arrest warrant issued on Monday by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court prosecutor. Ten people were arrested on Friday and a further 17 on Monday.
The remaining two wanted NagaWorld workers have turned themselves in, police said, on the same day union president Chhim Sithar was violently arrested outside the Phnom Penh casino.
Seventeen workers arrested on Monday either have been or will be released by tomorrow at the latest, police said.
Near NagaWorld, worker Chhuon Saman started crying as she described her reaction to Sithar’s arrest.
“It’s been 16 days that I’ve been here. My representative came and they arrested her. I feel heartbreak. They are so cruel,” Saman said. “I wanted her to come here. … But she wasn’t here yet. They caught her. I can’t accept this.”
“Today this made my conscience more and more powerful to keep going,” Saman added.
Pov Kalyan, a woman who witnessed Sithar’s arrest from close, shouted furiously
“They arrested one Sithar, but we still have a thousand Sithars. Arrest us as they wish,” She said.
Kalyan said she was not one of the more than 1,300 fired workers. But she could not go back to work seeing the pressure NagaWorld was putting on her coworkers, she said.
“I cannot step into work like this when my friends receive injustice from the company,” she said. “I’m scared. I must be brave. If they want to arrest me, I’m standing here.”
Phnom Penh Municipal Police chief Sar Thet confirmed Sithar’s arrest and said all nine people in an arrest warrant issued by the municipal prosecutor were now found. Six of them had been arrested on Friday.
“Two men came to make a confession,” he said, referring to two workers, Sok Narith and Sok Kongkea. When asked about potential leniency for turning themselves in, he said: “This is the judge’s right and power.”
Asked about 17 people arrested on Monday — none of whom were on the arrest warrant — Thet said a pregnant woman was already released and the others should also be out soon.
“Sixteen people are being educated, and will be allowed home this evening or tomorrow at the latest,” he said. “They have nothing to do with it. They just follow others.”
Sithar’s arrest was reported enthusiastically on government-aligned Fresh News: “Finally! Ms. Chhim Sithar, Mastermind of Incitement of Illegal Gatherings in Front of NagaWorld, Has Been Arrested by Authorities.”
At the rally, authorities could be heard telling workers to leave by 6 p.m.
Workers began leaving the rally together as a group near 6 p.m.
Naly Pilorge, director of local human rights group Licadho, said the union had done everything it could to resolve the strike peacefully, but the government and NagaWorld had chosen to intimidate, harass, and arrest peaceful strikers.
“Chhim Sithar’s courage in showing up to today’s strike, knowing that she faced absurd and false charges of incitement, is a sharp contrast to the cowardly violence of those who arrested and assaulted her. This violent arrest of a peaceful unionist is outrageous, and shows the government has given up all pretense of respecting its own laws on labor rights,” she said.
Peaceful strikes were not crimes, unions were not illegal, and workers’ rights must be respected by both employers and the government, Pilorge added.
“The government has abused ‘incitement’ charges to the point that they are meaningless, and are now regularly used to criminalize legal and peaceful speech and association. These unionists are, in effect, being prosecuted for daring to organize a peaceful and effective union. They must all be immediately and unconditionally released.”
Protester Lou Mei Fong said earlier in the afternoon that she was not scared and would continue to rally.
“I do not have any concerns because I do it legally, and I will continue to do so until there is a solution for us,” Mei Fong said. “As long as NagaWorld comes out to solve the problem for us, we will return to work as normal.”
“We’re striking against the company, not against authorities.”
The protests began again on Tuesday around 2 p.m., attracting more than 100 workers.
The U.S. Embassy said on Twitter that it was closely following “the troubling arrests” of NagaWorld workers.
- Impact of Event
- Gender of HRD
- Other (e.g. undefined, organisation, community)
- (Arbitrary) Arrest and Detention
- Use of Excessive Force
- Violence (physical)
- Rights Concerned
- Freedom of assembly
- Freedom of association
- Labour rights
- Freedom of expression
- Right to liberty and security
- Right to Protest
- Labour rights defender
- Monitoring Status
- Event Location
- Event Location
- Summary for Publications
On 3 and 4 January 2022, 16 labour rights defenders, including WHRD and Labor Rights Supported Union president Chhim Sithar, were arrested by the police with use of excessive force for taking part to a 2-week peaceful strike against mass lay-off in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.