Phnom Penh: Activist Sentenced to Two Years for Casino Protests

Chhim Sithar was accused of “fomenting social chaos” at NagaWorld, Phnom Phen’s large hotel-casino. She had led demonstrations for workers’ rights and the reinstatement of hundreds of fired employees. Eight other defendants were also sentenced to between 12 and 18 months in prison (which are suspended). The government tightened the repression against dissent before the July elections.

Phnom Penh () – A Phnom Penh court has sentenced union leader Chhim Sithar, at the forefront of the fight for workers’ rights in the conflict over the NagaWorld hotel-casino in the capital, to two years in prison for “encourage social chaos”. The activist led the popular demonstrations for higher wages and better working conditions, in a story that transcended the borders of Cambodia and became a symbol of the fight for rights in a country, and a continent, where there are still too many cases of exploitation .

The woman had been arrested in December 2021, amid protests and street demonstrations in which, in addition to the salary issue, the reinstatement of eight imprisoned union members and 370 others who claimed to have been unfairly dismissed was demanded. Initially released on bail, Chhim Sithar was arrested again last November on her return to Cambodia from a business conference in Australia, for “breaking bail rules” that prevented her from leaving the country. .

The unionist’s lawyer replied that there had been no “adequate” information about the conditions of her release and the possibility of travel. The international NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) also intervened in the case, stating that it is part of a broader government repression against unions and, in general, against the opposition and dissent, as has been happening in recent months of ahead of the July elections.

The trial, held yesterday, also included the other eight previously imprisoned trade unionists, who received sentences of between one year and one and a half years in prison, which were suspended conditionally. A sentence contested by the defendants themselves, as Ry Sovanndy points out, who claims his innocence: “I did nothing but they sentenced me. I cannot accept it. I will appeal the decision because I cannot accept this unfair verdict,” he added.

The labor dispute surrounding NagaWorld, which is still ongoing, began in April 2021, when the company fired more than 1,300 employees, half of them union members or affiliates. For the administration, the Covid-19 pandemic and the large losses in the budgets of the first six months of 2021 compared to the previous three years, together with the investments for the construction of NagaWorld 3, justified the decision. The employees’ reply was very harsh, according to which the company “distorted the reality of the facts” and wanted to take advantage of the difficult economic situation for its internal interests.

The sentencing of Chhim Sithar and others is “a flagrant attack on unions and workers,” said Montse Ferrer, Amnesty International’s acting deputy regional director for research. “This verdict – she added – is a reminder that the Cambodian government prefers to side with companies instead of protecting the rights of its people.” Siek Panha, a casino employee, attacked a court judges’ decision that it should be renamed “NagaWorld Court” because he was “hired by NagaWorld. I was speechless,” he tells Radio Free Asia (RFA), “because [Chhim Sithar] She only defended union rights, but she was sentenced to two years in jail.”

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Written by Editor TLN

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