Letters Show Jailed NagaWorld Workers Asking for Bail, Suspension of Strike

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NagaWorld union president Chhim Sithar is arrested on National Assembly Blvd. on January 4, 2022. (VOD)
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Eight jailed NagaWorld workers, including union leader Chhim Sithar, sent letters to the Labor Ministry asking its intervention to get them bail and called for their colleagues to suspend the strike to enable negotiations, according to the ministry.

A rights group providing legal representation to some of the workers said it didn’t know what the situation was with the letters, and some workers said they could not believe they were genuine.

The letters were first posted to local pro-government outlet Fresh News and were received by the Ministry of Labor on Sunday. In the letters, the workers ask for active employees to return to work at the casino complex and for the company to not punish these workers.

“For laid-off workers, please rest at home or remain silent for all of us to negotiate with NagaWorld and the Ministry of Labor,” the third demand in the letter reads.

The letters are signed by Chhim Sithar, union secretary Chhim Sokhorn, Hai Sopheap, Kleang Sobin, Re Sovandy, Sun Sreypich, Touch Sereymeas and former unionist Sok Narith. They were denied bail by the Appeal Court on Friday.

Labor Ministry spokesperson Heng Sour said the ministry had forwarded the letters to the Justice Ministry.

“On the morning of the 13th, the ministry reviewed and coordinated the letters to the Ministry of Justice to intervene for bail for the eight former employees,” Sour said in a message.

Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin could not be reached for comment Monday evening.

Khun Tharo, from labor rights groups Central, said the letters were genuine but would not elaborate on how he knew that. He only speculated that it could be part of a face-saving attempt by the government.

“Anything can happen. I suspect that they will let them out on court supervision like the other human rights defenders,” he said.

Less than a week ago, Interior Minister Sar Kheng held a high-level meeting with the justice and labor ministries, Phnom Penh police, military police and court officials to discuss the labor dispute. Officials were tight-lipped about the meeting.

Am Sam Ath, senior staffer at Licadho which represents some of the workers, said he was unaware of the request made by the workers and had only seen the letters in the news.

“We don’t know what the situation is. Our civil society group usually demands for the release of 11 unionists to finish this dispute as soon as possible,” he said.

Meach Sreyaun, one of the striking workers, said she was not convinced the letters were real and questioned if Sithar would sign such a document.

“I don’t believe that even Sithar signed it. We cannot stop striking until we can get nine points,” she said, referring to the union’s nine demands at the start of the strike.

Workers have continued their protests despite meeting increasing resistance from the police and local officials, who have made it a practice to detain workers, send them to a Prek Pnov quarantine facility and then release them a day or two later.

Around 180 workers were detained on Sunday and released the same night, said Muth Borey, who was part of the group. Another 168 workers were again shoved into buses on Monday afternoon and sent to the same quarantine facility, he added.

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