On Wednesday, a Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman issued a statement insisting that images and videos shared on social media depicting authorities using violence on protesting NagaWorld unionists are “fake news.”
Spokesman Met Measpheakdey posted the statement to Facebook, saying that the casino company strikers were actually the ones being violent to authorities. As evidence, Measpheakdey included a photo of a security official with a small abrasion on his neck, as well as images of a striking unionist making a crude hand gesture at authorities as they detained her on a bus.
To address several other videos from recent weeks showing police dragging and shoving protesters into buses, the statement said these events were set up by a “director” to generate sympathy for the protesters. It also pointed to Cambodian gender norms to criticize the striking unionists.
“Several legal measures and educational measures were sent by the competent authorities to give the protesters a chance to consider and wake up the protesters, who continued legal violations,” the statement read. “For the director to exploit the image serves the ambitions of the team, to the point of creating a scene as a victim through various images.”
“Today the protestors forgot to pretend to be a victim to attract pity. But [instead] turned to yelling and being very inappropriate, which is not suitable as Khmer women.”
One of the strikers, Thim Saiya, 40, admitted a worker might have scratched the official in the photo shared by the city spokesman but rejected the spokesman’s “fake news” claim, saying authorities have regularly used violence to detain workers.
Over the past month, officials turned to a strategy of detaining the unionists in buses, using force in many cases, before hauling them to a quarantine center or park on the outskirts of town. Security officials have pointed to Covid-19 health measures as justification for this, but civil society observers have dismissed that, saying the detentions are just another tactic to break the longrunning strike.
“It’s hard to say,” Saiya said of the claim that a worker scratched a security officer. “It is difficult when the authorities push us back and forth to the bus. Some of us try to get back at them if we cannot stand it.”
On Thursday, she said 139 strikers turned out to continue the protest. Saiya said plainclothes officers have regularly been the most aggressive throughout the detention process, yelling at the strikers and fighting with them.
“Usually they arrest me hard, pushing us to the bus. Sometimes we fall to the ground. Today we tried to ask them to get on the bus ourselves,” Saiya said.
NagaWorld union leaders released from prison last week have reengaged in negotiations to end the labor dispute. A statement released Wednesday by the Labor Ministry said a negotiation that day had not reached a solution but that another session is scheduled for March 29.