- Chhim Sithar was sentenced to two years for leading a strike at the NagaWorld casino in Phnom Penh
- Union members have been staging protests at the casino after it laid off over 1,300 workers in 2021
- Human rights organizations have criticized the Cambodian government over Sithar’s conviction
A Cambodian labor union leader has been jailed for two years for her involvement in strike action against NagaWorld, the only legal casino operating in Cambodia’s capital city Phnom Penh.
The verdict was condemned by various international human rights organizations, saying the trade unionists were merely exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly.
Strike Action Stemmed from NagaWorld’s Mass Lay-off
Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union (LRSU) of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld, led a strike at the NagaWorld casino complex in Phnom Penh in December 2021 after the company laid off more than 1,300 workers in April of the same year.
The affected employees accused the company of unfair dismissal, resulting in a series of protests that continue up to this day. Sithar and her group were demanding the reinstatement of 365 workers but NagaWorld refused to negotiate, and Cambodia’s Arbitration Council also decided not to intervene in the mass lay-off.
Sithar was among those arrested and charged by police in January 2022 for staging an “illegal strike” authorities claimed had affected public order and social security.
The union leader was released on bail in March 2022 but was re-arrested in November for breaching her bail conditions on international travel after taking part in the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) World Congress in Melbourne. Sithar and her lawyer were unaware of the travel restrictions, as she previously travelled to Thailand twice without legal repercussions.
Sithar was found guilty of incitement to commit a felony or disturb social security and was sentenced to two years by a Phnom Penh court on May 25, 2023. Eight other fellow union members were convicted of the same charge, five of whom received 18-month court monitoring orders, while the remaining three were handed one-year suspended jail sentences.
Human Rights Organizations Call for Sithar’s Release
Sithar’s jail sentence was criticized by several international human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) and Amnesty International. They are calling on Cambodian authorities to overturn the judgment and release Sithar.
Commenting on the verdict, Amnesty International’s interim deputy regional director for research Montse Ferrer said the conviction of Sithar and her fellow union members is a blatant attack on unions and workers fighting for their rights. He accused the Cambodian government of siding with businesses instead of protecting the rights of its people.