Bail denied to 8 union leaders in Cambodia’s NagaWorld Casino strike

An appeals court in Cambodia Thursday denied bail to eight union leaders from the NagaWorld Casino strike, on the grounds that their case is still under investigation by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.

Thousands of NagaWorld workers walked off their jobs in mid-December, demanding higher wages and the reinstatement of the eight jailed union leaders, three other jailed workers and 365 others they say were unjustly fired from the hotel and casino, which is owned by a Hong Kong-based company believed to have connections to family members of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Cambodian authorities have called the strike “illegal” and alleged that it is supported by foreign donors as a plot to topple the government. But a series of mass arrests in recent weeks have been attributed to alleged violations of pandemic health regulations in Cambodia’s capital. Activists said the charges were trumped up to break up the strike.

On Thursday, the appellate court’s presiding Judge Khun Leang Meang decided to uphold the municipal court’s decision to keep the eight union leaders detained at Prey Sar prison until their trials.

He read the decision in front of the eight leaders at the court, which did not allow NGOs to monitor the hearing. They were then taken back to the prison.

Both courts ignored requests of the accused, and continuing to detain them is unnecessary, their lawyer Sam Chamroeun told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“We will examine the court’s decision to find their mistakes and make an appeal in front of the Supreme Court,’ he said.

The court’s decision was saddening, Am Sam Ath of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, a local NGO, told RFA.

He said the court failed to take into consideration that the conflict stems from a labor dispute without any solution in sight for over an entire year.

The court should have released them because they lawfully expressed their rights through the strike to seek labor solutions and should not be charged and detained, said Am Sam Ath

“If they are not released, there will be no solution,” he said.

During Monday’s hearing, about 50 workers protested in front of the court. One of the workers told RFA the dispute should be resolved between the union, NagaWorld and the Ministry of labor.

“This is a labor dispute so don’t try to provoke us to have problem with authorities,” Sok Ratana said.

Through Wednesday, 147 of the 373 laid off workers accepted compensation to end their tenure with NagaWorld, the Ministry of Labor said in a statement Thursday.

The statement urged the remaining workers to stop demonstrating so that the ministry can continue to seek solutions.

“The ministry urges the ex NagaWorld workers and those who are absent from work to stop making more mistakes that can affect their benefits. The ministry will work with relevant authorities to resolve your concerns while also considering the rights of investors’ rights,” the statement said.

It also urged that the workers follow the government’s COVID-19 measures.

Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.

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