US ‘Following Closely’ Arrest of Union Members Protesting Laid-Off Casino Workers in Cambodia

  • The US response follows Tuesday’s violent arrest of the president of LRSU, Chhim Sithar
  • Plainclothes police put Sithar in a headlock, manhandling her before forcing her into a car
  • Police have arrested 28 in connection with the NagaWorld strike since the start of 2022
  • Protesters are demanding the reinstatement of 365 workers laid off in April
  • The charge against protesters is “incitement to cause serious chaos to social security”
  • CCHR has condemned the arrests as portraying “a bad image for Cambodia”
Nagaworld, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
After the violent arrest of a union leader protesting on behalf of workers that NagaWorld Casino laid off, the US Embassy in Phnom Penh has expressed its concern over the mounting situation. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

Concern over arrests

The US Embassy in Cambodia has expressed its concern over the arrests of NagaWorld union members protesting on behalf of workers that NagaWorld Casino in Phnom Penh laid off.

The US Embassy in the Cambodian capital warned via Twitter on Tuesday that it was following the situation “closely.”

The US response follows the violent arrest of the president of Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU), Chhim Sithar. According to Thmey Thmey affiliate Cambodianess, plainclothes police arrested Sithar outside the Australian embassy in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, putting her in a headlock and manhandling the union leader before forcing her into a car. The media source cites Fresh News as saying police arrested two other LRSU leaders, Sok Narith and Sok Kongkea, also on Tuesday.

authorities have arrested 28 in connection with the NagaWorld strike since the start of 2022

The detention of the three follows the arrests of 15 protesting workers on Monday. Along with ten protesters arrested on New Year’s Day, Cambodian authorities have arrested 28 in connection with the NagaWorld strike since the start of 2022.

Since December, thousands of workers have peacefully picketed outside holding company NagaCorp Ltd’s integrated resort (IR), demanding the reinstatement of 365 workers laid off in April.

Accusations fly

Phnom Penh police have accused Sithar as being the strike’s ringleader, while alleging she has connections to foreign organizations trying to destabilize operations of the country’s largest casino.

Executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) Chak Sopheap told Reuters Tuesday that the incident was “a brutal arrest against such a young brave lady.”

Cambodian police have previously declared the protests illegal, and urged employees to end their demonstration. NagaCorp, meanwhile, said it was conducting a “mutual separation plan” for workers in line with efforts to boost cost efficiency in the face of COVID-19-caused difficulties.

When the workers were let go, NagaCorp was hoping to trim $2m per month off the IR’s run-rate operating costs. NagaWorld was the first casino in Cambodia to reopen in July after COVID-19 shutdowns, having made a deal with the government to resume its NagaWorld Casino slot machine and VIP table games business. There are over 100 brick-and-mortar casinos currently operating in Cambodia, a country in which online gambling is illegal.

Authorities charged the ten protesters arrested January 1 with “incitement to cause serious chaos to social security.”

Chorus of condemnation

Along with the US Embassy and CCHR voicing concerns, 119 unions, NGOs and community groups joined together to issue a statement condemning the arrests of LRSU leaders and calling for the unconditional release of all those detained from December 31 to January 4.

Sopheak believes the Cambodian government should hear the workers out instead of silencing them.

a bad image for Cambodia”

“The gathering is at the doorstep of the National Assembly, but no parliamentarians have come out or said anything, so we allowed the brutal arrest to happen. It’s a bad image for Cambodia.”