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UN experts concerned by Cambodia casino strike arrests

Published on January 05, 2022

The arrest and detention of casino union leaders and activists in Cambodia “may amount to a breach of human rights law”, United Nations rights experts said Wednesday.

Hundreds of workers have been protesting against lay-offs at a Phnom Penh gambling hotspot run by a Hong Kong-listed firm. They were demanding the reinstatement of 365 employees laid off last year during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Chhim Sithar, the leader of the workers’ union at Nagacorp Ltd’s casino and hotel complex, was dragged into a car by plainclothes police as she arrived at a protest on Tuesday, AFP journalists at the scene said.

“Many of the arrests of the mostly women strikers were conducted in a violent way and appear to contravene the freedoms of association, assembly and expression,” the independent UN human rights experts said.

The four experts, who do not speak for the UN but report their findings to the global body, called on the Cambodian government to explain the police actions.

The experts include the special rapporteurs on human rights in Cambodia, on freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and the situation of human rights defenders.

The experts said nine arrests took place on December 31, with another 17 on Monday and three on Tuesday.

“The pattern and manner of these arrests… appears to be an escalation in tactics used in previous cases that have occurred in Cambodia over recent years and resulted in the wrongful imprisonment of human rights defenders,” the experts said.

“The latest charges and arrests are of particular concern as the country gears up for commune elections this year, followed by national elections the year after.

“This sends a chilling message to Cambodian people on their space to assemble freely.”

Cambodia, one of southeast Asia’s poorest countries, has an ambiguous relationship with gambling — while it has casinos, its own citizens are officially barred from playing in them.