NagaWorld Union Boss, 29 Others Arrested Over Illegal Protest

January 5, 2022
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Cambodian police have arrested at least 30 people as protests over casino operator NagaCorp’s firing of 1,300 employees enter their third week, prompting US government support for the sacked workers.

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Cambodian police have arrested at least 30 people as protests over casino operator NagaCorp’s firing of 1,300 employees enter their third week, prompting US government support for the sacked workers.

Police in the capital Phnom Penh arrested ten protesters on Friday and 17 on Monday, with another three arrested on Tuesday, including NagaWorld staff union president Chhim Sithar, independent online news outlet VOD reported.

Video footage published online shows Sithar arriving at the protest barricade near the Australian embassy to join hundreds of laid-off workers and currently employed staff, before promptly being dragged into a car by uniformed and plain clothes officers amid screaming and scuffles with supporters.

Arrest warrants were issued by court prosecutors for Sithar and eight others on Monday over alleged incitement to commit a felony. Six of the nine had been arrested on Friday, with the remaining two suspects reportedly turning themselves in to police on Tuesday.

Of the 17 protesters arrested on Monday, only one — a pregnant woman — had been released by Tuesday evening, VOD reported.

The peaceful protests, which began on December 18, followed eight months of complaints by unions and sacked workers about the company’s decision to lay off more than 1,300 staff, despite recording a $102m net profit for 2020.

Retrenched staff included all or almost all unionised staff.

The case has attracted international attention, including from the International Labour Organization, but arbitration between the company and staff foundered, with the government siding with NagaCorp and a court declaring the protest/strike action illegal.

The US embassy stated via its Twitter account on Tuesday that the government should promote negotiation.

“We are following closely the troubling arrests of NagaWorld union members for their peaceful expression and urge authorities to hear citizens, not silence them.

“Freedoms of speech, assembly and association are guaranteed in the Cambodian constitution,” it said.

Also on Tuesday, police and court officials told reporters that they had gathered evidence of protester intent to attack police and of protest organisers receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in “illegal” funding from “two NGOs abroad and one in Cambodia”, the pro-government Phnom Penh Post reported.

Once a global top ten casino operation by EBITDA, NagaWorld’s dual casino precinct is scheduled for a dramatic, up-to-$4bn expansion in hotel inventory and gaming facilities.

Such an expansion is now likely predicated on a full recovery from the coronavirus pandemic’s damage to tourism revenue and would restore and likely expand the company’s workforce from pre-pandemic levels.

But ongoing pandemic-linked instability and revenue losses, as well as China’s sustained assault on the regional gambling industry, amount to new challenges for the Hong Kong-listed company, despite avoiding Beijing’s wrath to date.

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