Justice ministry rebuffs calls to free unionists
The Ministry of Justice and the Cambodian Human Rights Committee (CHRC) have rebuffed calls for the release of nine former NagaWorld employees currently detained on charges of “incitement to cause social chaos”, in relation to their ongoing labour dispute with the integrated casino resort.
The rejection came after Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a March 14 statement urging their “immediate and unconditional” release, saying the Cambodian authorities were violating the criminal justice system by targeting union leaders and other labour rights advocates.
The HRW statement followed a Phnom Penh Municipal Court hearing earlier that day for Chhim Sithar –leader of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees (LRSU) at NagaWorld – and her eight co-accused, who are all LRSU members.
“They are being subjected to increasing pressure from Cambodian authorities as the space for civil society in Cambodia narrows in the run-up to the July parliamentary election,” said HRW Asia representative Phil Robertson.
Chin Malin, vice-chairman of the CHRC and spokesman for the justice ministry, described the statement – titled “Cambodia: Labour Leaders, Activists Facing Baseless Allegations” – as biased against the government with no specific basis.
“This case follows standard legal proceedings. Just as in any court case, solid evidence and strong testimony must be presented to discharge the accused. This is how an independent judiciary functions,” said Malin.
“The accused have already crossed the line of existing labour dispute resolution mechanisms. This has led to the commission of crimes, which are clearly defined under
the law. Such matters must be resolved through the judiciary. Naturally, the courts follow all national and international conventions related to human rights,” he added.
Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC) president Ath Thorn said the recent arrest of Sithar was unlikely to be related to any criminal offences.
“The authorities should consider releasing Chhim Sithar if they do not want to see more criticism from the people, national and international organisations, as the arrests appear to threaten the wider labour movement,” he said.
Heng Sour, secretary of state and spokesman for the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training, said critics should thoroughly examine the facts, without taking into account personalities or the roles of the accused, as this could lead to bias.
Sithar was arrested on January 4, 2022, on charges of “incitement to commit a felony” under articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code.