Activists Accuse Cambodian Authorities of Using Omicron to Stop Casino Workers Strike

  • Authorities ordered striking workers to stay home and stop all protests outside NagaWorld Casino
  • Demonstrators were warned they risked fines and jail if they did not heed the COVID-19 directive
  • 255 NagaWorld workers were tested for COVID-19, with only 29 of the workers testing positive
  • A striking casino supervisor said the order “should only apply to people who test positive”
  • According to Monday’s media reports in Cambodia, eight union members are behind bars
NagaWorld casino Phnom Penh
Activists in Cambodia have accused officials of using the COVID-19 omicron variant as an excuse to order at least 200 NagaWorld casino workers to stay home and stop all protests outside the IR. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

29 protesters tested positive

Cambodian authorities have ordered the demonstrations by at least 200 NagaWorld Casino workers to stop after 29 protesters tested positive for the Omicron strain of COVID-19, reports the Union of Catholic Asian News.

UCA reported the cessation order by the Phnom Penh Municipal Commission to Combat COVID-19 on Monday. The ban has resulted in Cambodian activists accusing authorities of using Omicron as an excuse to end the near two-month strike.

NagaWorld labor case is continually framed as color revolution to now Covid-19 infection.”

Sopheap Chak, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), took to Twitter to state that the “NagaWorld labor case is continually framed as color revolution to now Covid-19 infection.”

Chak also stated that six strikers got arrested Monday and only three were released.

Since December, thousands of employees and their union representatives have peacefully demonstrated outside NagaWorld’s integrated resort (IR) in Phnom Penh, demanding the reinstatement of 365 workers laid off in April by holding company NagaCorp Ltd.

Authorities ordered the striking casino workers to stay home and immediately cease all protests outside the IR, warning the demonstrators that they risked fines and imprisonment if they did not heed the COVID-19 directive.

Stark warning issued

“Should protesters be defiant and continue to assemble for rallies, which could be a catalyst for a community outbreak of Covid-19, the individuals causing trouble — by not following the health and administrative measures — will be legally responsible,” UCA cites the Phnom Penh municipal body as stating.

“No excuses,” warned the government-backed body.

Demonstrating staff were also ordered to self-isolate for seven days even if testing negative. This comes after one protester tested positive on Friday evening, leading to the health body’s order for all protesters to get tested within three days.

The Voice of Democracy (VOD) reported that 255 NagaWorld workers were tested for COVID-19 on Saturday, and that the health ministry issued a statement Monday saying that 29 of the workers had tested positive.

Striking casino supervisor Mey Vanna told VOD that he thought “the rule isn’t right, [it] should only apply to people who test positive.”

prosecutor sent letters of summons to four protestors on February 5

According to the Phnom Penh Post, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s prosecutor sent letters of summons to four protestors on February 5. The four must report to municipal police headquarters on February 19 for the charge of “blocking the enforcement of Covid-19 measures.”

Several union members behind bars

According to Monday’s media reports, eight union members are behind bars. The arrest that brought worldwide condemnation, however, was that of the president of Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld, Chhim Sithar. Thmey Thmey affiliate Cambodianess reported that plainclothes police arrested Sithar early January outside the Australian embassy in the Cambodian capital, putting her in a headlock and forcing her into a car. The violent arrest of Sithar prompted a response from the US Embassy in Cambodia, which got onto Twitter to say it was “following closely the troubling arrests of union members for their peaceful expression.” 

Phnom Penh police have singled out Sithar as being the strike’s ringleader. They allege she has connections to foreign organizations and local NGOs trying to destabilize operations of the NagaWorld IR, the country’s largest casino.

Police have warned demonstators they risk getting charged with inciting serious social unrest in violation of articles 494 and 495 of Cambodia’s penal code.