U.S. calls for the release of Cambodian labor activist
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday said it was deeply concerned by Cambodia’s arrest of union leader Chhim Sithar and called for her release and that of other detained trade unionists.
The State Department said Sithar, whose union has been in a year-long dispute with the NagaWorld casino, was arrested after returning to Cambodia from a labor conference in Australia.
It said Cambodian authorities had previously interfered with workers’ rights by detaining union leaders and workers protesting the termination of NagaWorld employees.
“We urge Cambodian authorities to release Chhim Sithar and all detained trade unionists exercising their rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, drop charges against them, and move to constructively resolve their disputes,” the department said in a statement.
The State Department also reiterated a call for the release U.S. citizen Theary Seng and said the Cambodian government should uphold labor rights obligations and mediate a resolution between NagaWorld and the union.
Theary Seng, a Cambodian-American lawyer and human rights activist, was among 60 opposition figures jailed in June on charges of conspiring to commit treason, after a mass trial condemned by the United States and rights groups as politically motivated.
Chhim Sithar is head of the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld and was at the forefront of a strike at Cambodia’s biggest casino, facing off against scores of riot police at protests in Phnom Penh.
A statement released on Monday by the Cambodian Center for Human Rights on behalf of 69 civil society groups said Sithar was arrested on Saturday and accused of violating bail conditions that allegedly prohibited her from leaving the country.
It said Sithar was released on bail in March following a previous January arrest and that neither she nor her lawyers were informed of any bail conditions.
Employees of the NagaWorld casino, which is run by Hong Kong-listed Nagacorp Ltd, began protesting in December against the layoff of 365 workers in the wake of disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Police called the strike illegal and said the protests threatened public security. NagaWorld described the layoffs as unavoidable.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Simon Lewis; editing by Stephen Coates)