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A Union Leader in Cambodia Has Been Jailed Over a Casino Strike
On Thursday, a Cambodian court made the decision to jail a local union leader and activist for two years. The reason? She had been leading a strike against Cambodia’s one and only casino, with the purpose of reinstating workers who were cut loose during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This was not the first time Chhim Sithar has been arrested. The woman was first placed into custody in January of last year. She was protesting the casino, and was charged with incitement. Many believe the charge was fallacious, as an incitement charge is a common tactic used by authorities to silence activists.
In November 2022, Ms. Sithar was arrested once more, this time for supposedly violating her bail. The activist was returning from a conference in Australia, when the police took her into custody. So, this latest arrest is just one more in a long-line of attempts to silence the outspoken activist.
The Arrest Does Not Sit Well with the Cambodian Public
On Thursday, the Phnom Penh court found Sithar guilty of “incitement to commit a felony.” Understandably, neither the Cambodian public, nor international human rights organizations, like Amnesty International, are happy with this decision.
In fact, in a recent statement issued by Montse Ferrer, Amnesty International’s interim deputy, the man decried the decision as an injustice, saying, “The convictions of Chhim Sithar and the [remaining protestors and union leaders] is a blatant attack on workers who are fighting for their fundamental rights.” He went on to add, “The decision shows that the Cambodian government would rather side with corporations than protect the rights of its people.”
The Cambodian public is also unsatisfied with the decision. Not only have the convictions led to massive backlash, but protesters present at the arrest were incredibly dismayed. They followed the police vehicles chanting “injustice” as Chhim Sithar was driven away. Many rights groups, Cambodian and international, maintain that the charges are baseless.
Dissatisfaction in Cambodia
The arrest of Chhim Sithar is the latest in a long line of scandals, which have been sowing the seeds of dissatisfaction in the Cambodian public. Current Prime Minister, Hun Sen, who has been the head of state in Cambodia for close to 40 years, has been accused on several occasions of human rights violations, as well as stifling free speech.
His defense of the Nagacorp Casino, Cambodia’s only casino, seems to be fueling the idea that he is unconcerned about the rights and opinions of his people. His continued jailing of political dissidents and rights group advocates certainly contributes to these beliefs.