NGOs Decry Police Use of Force, Sexual Harassment as NagaWorld Detentions Continue

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Authorities surround NagaWorld workers at the intersection of Sothearos and Sihanouk boulevards on February 24, 2022. (Chhorn Raksmey/VOD)
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Authorities on Thursday continued to detain NagaWorld workers attempting to resume their strike, with local rights groups criticizing what they described as excessive use of police force including sexual harassment against the strikers. 

There have been more than 150 detentions from NagaWorld unionist attempts to resume their strike at the casino complex. Union members confirmed on Thursday that an additional 27 people were detained and taken to the same quarantine center in Prek Pnov that officials have used this week to confine workers and test them for Covid-19.

Thursday’s arrests followed the same strategy used by police over the past few days of shoving, carrying and dragging the workers who appeared near the casino into waiting city buses. Videos from today’s detentions show police officers wearing personal protective equipment pushing women into a bus, crushing some of them against the vehicle’s stairs.

Civil society groups also released a statement condemning the use of “state-sponsored violence” and Covid-19 measures against the workers to end their strike. The groups expressed concern over tactics used by security personnel, which they said includes sexual harassment. 

According to the statement, a male police officer grabbed one worker and “squeezed her breast”  as she was forced into a bus on Tuesday. The groups also pointed to the alleged use of lewd language and threats of sexual assault made by a security official against a union member in late December. 

“In these challenging times, women need increased guarantees to exercise their rights and support, and civil society cannot remain silent in the face of the violence committed against them, all the more when such abuses are committed by the very authorities whose mission is to protect them,” reads the statement. 

Ou Tepphalin, who heads a service and entertainment worker federation, said the police were being heartless in their behavior, especially in relation to the allegations of sexual harassment.

“It is unfortunate that when the authorities wear the security uniforms, it seems that the exercise of rights is reduced and the perpetrators are not afraid of the law,” she said, during an online press conference by rights groups.

Phnom Penh police chief Sar Thet denied that any officers were intentionally touching the workers inappropriately, and blamed the physical skirmishes on workers’ reluctance to follow authorities’ instructions.

“No one intended to touch her breast,” he said, referring to the allegation in the statement. “I think we don’t have the intention to do this and I believe that no one wants to do that.”

NagaWorld workers are taken away in a bus on February 24, 2022, with the casino complex in the background. (Chhorn Raksmey/VOD)

As of Thursday morning, about 75 detainees brought on Tuesday and Wednesday remained at the Prek Pnov center.

Authorities had brought 39 workers there on Tuesday, of which four tested positive and were taken to a hospital. Of the 51 detained on Wednesday, three tested positive on Thursday morning and were taken for treatment. The rest of the detainees were still at the center as of Thursday evening.

Workers say officials have demanded the detainees sign contracts pledging to end their striking or pay fines of $1,250. The workers have refused this, instead choosing to remain at the facility. However, on Thursday 35 workers were released and allowed to return home, said striker Ros Lyheng, who is part of the group.

“They did not have a car to pick us up, they told us to find our own way [home],” Lyheng said. “Doctors told me if you want to have a bus for you, you should sign a contract.”

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