The Observatory has been informed about the upholding of the convictions and prison sentences against eight current and former leaders and members of the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU) casino, including Ms Chhim Sithar, union leader and LRSU President, as well as the ongoing arbitrary detention of the latter.
On October 19, 2023, the Phnom Penh Court of Appeals upheld in full the judgement issued by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on May 25, 2023, which found Ms Sithar, Ms Chhim Sokhorn, Ms Hay Sopheap, Ms Kleang Soben, Ms Sun Srey Pich, Ms Touch Sereymeas, Ms Ry Sovandy, and Mr Sok Narith guilty of “incitement” under Articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code of Cambodia, in relation to a series of LRSU’s strikes that started in Phnom Penh in December 2021.
The initial sentences, imposed by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court and appealed by the eight defenders, were as follows: Ms Sithar was sentenced to the maximum penalty of two years in prison; Chhim Sokhorn, Hay Sopheap, Kleang Soben, Sun Srey Pich, and Touch Sereymeas were sentenced to one year and six months in prison, but were not imprisoned and remain under judicial supervision until a final verdict is reached; Ry Sovandy and Sok Narith were sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term.
In addition, Mr Sok Kongkea, a ninth member of LRSU, who had also been sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term without being detained on May 25, 2023, did not appeal the lower court’s judgement.
At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, Ms Sithar remained arbitrarily detained in Correctional Centre 2 (CC2) in Phnom Penh, where she has been held since November 26, 2022 with regular access to her lawyers. She and at least six of the other seven co-defendants will lodge an appeal before the Supreme Court of Cambodia against the appeal judgement.
The Observatory recalls that in April 2021, Naga Corp., which operates the NagaWorld casino, dismissed 1,329 employees of the casino, including many union members, allegedly due to the financial consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. Since December 2021, LRSU members have been leading regular strikes on weekly basis in Phnom Penh demanding the reinstatement of the dismissed employees and respect for their labour rights. The authorities responded to these strikes by beating, arresting, and assaulting strikers, and sexually harassing female striking workers.
On January 4, 2022, Ms Sithar was violently arrested by plainclothes police officers while she attempted to join a strike by the NagaWorld casino workers, initiated by LRSU in Phnom Penh. Ms Sithar was charged with “incitement” and remanded in pre-trial detention at CC2, until her release on bail on March 14, 2022.
The Observatory further recalls that on November 26, 2022, Ms Sithar was arbitrarily rearrested by immigration police officers at Phnom Penh International Airport upon her return from a trip to Australia, where she attended the International Trade Union Confederation World Conference. Ms Sithar was accused of violating her judicial supervision, which the Phnom Penh Municipal Court claimed prohibited her from leaving the country. However, upon her release in March 2022, neither Ms Sithar nor her lawyers were informed that any judicial supervision, such as travel restrictions, was imposed on her, and she had travelled abroad two other times since her release on bail without incident before being rearrested. Ms Sithar was then transferred to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, which ordered her immediate pre-trial detention in CC2.
In addition to Ms Sithar and the eight other co-defendants in the “incitement” case, many other LRSU leaders and members have faced legal reprisals in connection with their labour rights actions. Another six union members were charged in February 2022 with “obstruction of enforcement measures” under Article 11 of Cambodia’s Law on Preventive Measures Against the Spread of Covid-19 and Other Severe and Dangerous Contagious Diseases – a law which has been repeatedly used to criminalise the actions of the striking workers.
The Observatory strongly condemns the upholding of the convictions and prison sentences against Chhim Sithar, Chhim Sokhorn, Hay Sopheap, Kleang Soben, Sun Srey Pich, Touch Sereymeas, Ry Sovandy and Sok Narith, which seem to be only aimed at punishing them for their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities. The Observatory urges the Cambodian authorities to quash their convictions and to put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against them, all other union leaders and members, and all other human rights defenders in the country.
The Observatory further condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention of Chhim Sithar, and urges the Cambodian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release her.
Lastly, the Observatory condemns the attacks against labour rights defenders and urges the Cambodian authorities to guarantee in all circumstances labour rights in the country, including the right to strike, as enshrined in international human rights law and particularly in Articles 6 to 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Cambodia is a state party.
How You Can Help
Please write to the authorities of Cambodia, asking them to:
- Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Chhim Sithar, all other union leaders and members, and all other human rights defenders in Cambodia;
- Immediately and unconditionally release Chhim Sithar, since her detention is arbitrary as it seems to be only aimed at punishing her for her peaceful and legitimate human rights activities;
- Quash the convictions of Chhim Sithar, Chhim Sokhorn, Hay Sopheap, Kleang Soben, Sun Srey Pich, Touch Sereymeas, Ry Sovandy, Sok Narith and Sok Kongkea, and put an end to all acts of harassment – including at the judicial level – against them, all other union leaders and members, and all other human rights defenders in Cambodia, and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities in all circumstances without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
- Guarantee in all circumstances labour rights in the country, including the right to strike, as enshrined in international human rights law and particularly in Articles 6 to 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Cambodia is a state party.
- Mr. Hun Manent, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
- Mr. Sar Sokha, Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mr. Koeut Rith, Minister of Justice of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: email@example.com
- Mr. Sok Chenda Sophea, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org / email@example.com
- Mr. Ly Chantola, President of the Cambodian Bar Association. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Ambassador Mr. Ney Samol, Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: email@example.com
Please also write to the diplomatic missions or embassies of Cambodia in your respective country.