NagaWorld Union Leader’s Arrest Came After Third Trip Abroad

2 min read
LRSU president Chhim Sithar, center, speaks to union members outside the Ministry of Labor after negotiations in March 2022. (VOD)
[responsivevoice_button voice="US English Female"]

Before NagaWorld union president Chhim Sithar was arrested for violating bail conditions by traveling abroad, she had already been on two overseas trips, with her lawyer unaware of the restriction.

Sithar was arrested on Saturday at the Phnom Penh airport after returning from a labor conference in Australia. After questioning by immigration, she was sent to Prey Sar Prison over bail violations, police said.

Sithar was among several unionists arrested earlier this year over ongoing protests against mass layoffs and union-busting. They were released on bail after agreeing they would not directly participate in the protests.

The NagaWorld union’s vice president, Chhim Sokhom, was also among the unionists arrested and released on bail this year. She said on Monday that she had never been told of a prohibition against going abroad.

“On my paper I didn’t see anything prohibited. I will let you see in case I am confused or something,” Sokhom said, sending a reporter her prison release papers.

Sokhom added that Sithar had already been abroad twice since being released on bail: the first time to Thailand on September 23 for a health checkup, and again to Thailand on October 5 for a meeting.

Union members were meeting on Monday to assess the situation, she said.

Pro-government Fresh News has posted on its website a document from March 14 prohibiting Sithar from traveling abroad, signed by a prosecutor, court clerk and judge. An arrest warrant against Sithar was issued on November 23.

Sithar left the country on November 15 to attend the International Trade Union Confederation’s global conference in Australia, according to a statement signed by 69 civil society organizations.

The statement said that Sithar was never informed of her bail conditions, and her lawyers were never granted permission to view her case file.

“The government must stop treating Sithar, alongside other LRSU members and union members and leaders across the garment, hospitality, and informal sectors, as if they are enemies of the state,” the statement said. “They represent legitimate interests of workers, who are calling on employers and companies to respect the law and their rights. The government should be celebrating them, not imprisoning them.”

Am Sam Ath, spokesperson for human rights group Licadho, which is providing a lawyer for Sithar, said her lawyer had not been made aware of the travel restriction.

“The lawyer doesn’t know this condition,” Sam Ath said. “And another point: Why did no one stop her when she left?”

Justice Ministry spokesperson Chhin Malin said authorities were not aware of the situation when Sithar left the country.

“She also didn’t ask permission from the authorities. And this is a violation of legal procedures related to judicial observation,” Malin said.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Y Rin declined to comment, while immigration department spokesperson Keo Vanthan could not be reached.

VOD. No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission. VOD is not responsible for any infringement in all forms. The perpetrator may be subject to legal action under Cambodian laws and related laws.