NagaWorld Strike Leader Chhim Sithar’s Prison Sentence Upheld on Appeal

Posted on: October 26, 2023, 06:57h. 

Last updated on: October 26, 2023, 12:25h.

Cambodia is maintaining the convictions and prison sentences for eight individuals associated with the Labor Rights Supported Union (LRSU) of Khmer Employees of the NagaWorld casino, despite pleas by human rights groups.

A NagaWorld worker holds a sign protesting the arrest of Chhim Sithar
A NagaWorld worker holds a sign protesting the arrest of Chhim Sithar. The union leader is still in prison in Cambodia in what some have called a witch hunt. (Image: AFP)

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court initially handed down the sentences, which the defendants later appealed. Among them is Chhim Sithar, the union leader and president of the LRSU, who remains incarcerated.

The case revolves around the activities of LRSU and its leaders, who have been– and still are – advocating for labor rights within the NagaWorld casino for the past several years. The legal proceedings have raised concerns about the freedom of association and expression for workers in Cambodia.

The decision to maintain the convictions has sparked discussions about the state of labor rights and the judiciary system in the country. Human rights activists and organizations closely monitor the situation, emphasizing the importance of a fair and transparent legal process.

As the case heads to the Supreme Court, the outcome of the appeal will have implications for the individuals and the broader landscape of labor rights and advocacy in Cambodia. If they’re successful in their fight, Cambodian officials could be held accountable for unlawful detainment and other violations of the country’s constitution.

The NagaWorld strikes, which have been mostly peaceful from the start, continue. Despite the casino reporting strong financial growth, it isn’t willing to negotiate with the workers.

Prison Sentences

Sithar received the maximum penalty of two years in prison on charges of disrupting the peace and violating the related terms of probation.

Sithar has been held in arbitrary detention in a Phnom Penh prison since November 26, 2022. The decision to uphold the convictions has prompted her and at least six codefendants to file an appeal with the Supreme Court of Cambodia.

Other members, namely Chhim Sokhorn, Hay Sopheap, Kleang Soben, Sun Srey Pich, and Touch Sereymeas, received 18 months in prison. These individuals are currently free on probation pending the outcome of their trials. Ry Sovandy and Sok Narith each received a one-year suspended sentence.

NagaWorld Strike Timeline

In April 2021, NagaCorp, the owner of the NagaWorld casino, terminated the employment of 1,329 casino workers, including numerous union members. It did so because of financial difficulties arising from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In December 2021, LRSU members began organizing regular strikes in Phnom Penh. They advocated for the reinstatement of the dismissed employees and the protection of their labor rights. The strikes have been marked by police violence, arrests, and assaults on the strikers, with reports of female workers facing sexual harassment.

On January 4, 2022, Sithar was forcefully arrested by police officers as she joined another strike orchestrated by LRSU. She faced charges of “incitement,” and was locked up until her release on bail over two months later.

On November 26, Sithar was arrested at Phnom Penh International Airport while returning from a trip to Australia. She had visited the country to attend the International Trade Union Confederation World Conference.

As she returned to court, Cambodia accused her of violating the terms of her probation, alleging travel restrictions were in place. Neither Sithar nor her legal representatives had previously been told of any such restrictions. A request they made to review the judicial order was denied.

Sitar, who had traveled abroad twice without incident post-bail release, was again placed in jail. That then turned into permanent detention, with the authorities branding her a danger to peace and order.