Cambodia: Sentencing and arbitrary detention of union leader Chhim Sithar
URGENT APPEAL - THE OBSERVATORY
KHM 001 / 1222 / OBS 085.1
Conviction / Sentencing /
Arbitrary detention /
May 26, 2023
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Cambodia.
The Observatory has been informed about the conviction and sentencing of nine current and former leaders and members of the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU) casino, including Ms Chhim Sithar, union leader and President of the LRSU, as well as the ongoing arbitrary detention of the latter.
On May 25, 2023, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Ms Sithar, Ms Chhim Sokhorn, Ms Hay Sopheap, Ms Kleang Soben, Ms Sun Srey Pich, Ms Touch Sereymeas, Ms Ry Sovandy, Mr Sok Narith, and Mr Sok Kongkea guilty of “incitement” under Articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code of Cambodia in relation to an ongoing LRSU’s peaceful strike action.
The Court sentenced Ms Sithar to the maximum penalty of two years in prison. She was immediately transferred to Correctional Centre 2 (CC2) in Phnom Penh, where she had been arbitrarily detained since November 26, 2022, to serve the remainder of her sentence – that is, approximately one year and four months, taking into account the time already served during her two pre-trial detentions.
Chhim Sokhorn, Hay Sopheap, Kleang Soben, Sun Srey Pich, and Touch Sereymeas were sentenced to one year and six months in prison, but they will not yet be imprisoned and will remain under judicial supervision until a final verdict is reached – that is, if no party appeals within one month, or when potential appeals are exhausted when the Supreme Court issues its decision.
Ry Sovandy, Sok Narith, and Sok Kongkea were sentenced to a one-year suspended prison term, and are not detained.
At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, seven of the nine defendants were planning to appeal the verdict.
The Observatory recalls that in April 2021, Naga Corp., which operates the NagaWorld casino, dismissed 1,329 employees of the casino, including many union members, allegedly due to the financial consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. Since December 2021, LRSU members have been leading almost daily strikes in Phnom Penh demanding the reinstatement of the dismissed employees and respect for their labour rights. The authorities responded to these strikes by beating, arresting, and assaulting strikers, and sexually harassing female striking workers.
On January 4, 2022, Ms Sithar was violently arrested by plainclothes police officers while she attempted to join a strike by the NagaWorld casino workers, initiated by LRSU in Phnom Penh. Ms Sithar was charged with “incitement” and remanded in pre-trial detention at CC2, until her release on bail on March 14, 2022.
The Observatory further recalls that on November 26, 2022, Ms Sithar was arbitrarily rearrested by immigration police officers at Phnom Penh International Airport upon her return from a trip to Australia, where she attended the International Trade Union Confederation World Conference. Ms Sithar was accused of violating her judicial supervision, which the Phnom Penh Municipal Court claimed prohibited her from leaving the country. However, upon her release in March 2022, neither Ms Sithar nor her lawyers were informed that any judicial supervision, such as travel restrictions, was imposed on her, and she had travelled abroad two other times since her release on bail without incident before being rearrested. Ms Sithar was then transferred to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, which ordered her immediate pre-trial detention in CC2.
In addition to Ms Sithar and the eight other co-defendants in the “incitement” case, many other LRSU leaders and members have faced legal reprisals in connection with their labour rights actions. Another six union members were charged in February 2022 with “obstruction of enforcement measures” under Article 11 of Cambodia’s Law on Preventive Measures Against the Spread of Covid-19 and Other Severe and Dangerous Contagious Diseases – a law which has been repeatedly used to criminalise the actions of the striking workers. In another criminal case initiated by NagaWorld in August 2022 against LRSU leaders and members, at least 18 identified LRSU members face charges under the following provisions of Cambodia’s Criminal Code: “breaking and entering into dwelling place” (Article 299); intentionally causing damage with aggravating circumstances” (Articles 410 and 411); and “unlawful arrest, detention and confinement” (Article 253).
The Observatory strongly condemns the conviction and sentencing of Chhim Sithar, Chhim Sokhorn, Hay Sopheap, Kleang Soben, Sun Srey Pich, Touch Sereymeas, Ry Sovandy, Sok Narith and Sok Kongkea, which seem to be only aimed at punishing them for their peaceful and legitimate human rights activities. The Observatory urges the Cambodian authorities to quash their convictions and to put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against them, all other union leaders and members, and all other human rights defenders in the country.
The Observatory further condemns the ongoing arbitrary detention of Chhim Sithar, and urges the Cambodian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release her.
The Observatory lastly condemns the attacks against labour rights defenders and urges the Cambodian authorities to guarantee in all circumstances labour rights in the country, including the right to strike, as enshrined in international human rights law and particularly in Articles 6 to 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Cambodia is a state party.
Please write to the authorities of Cambodia to urge them to:
- Guarantee in all circumstances the physical integrity and psychological well-being of Chhim Sithar, all other union leaders and members, and all other human rights defenders in Cambodia;
- Immediately and unconditionally release Chhim Sithar, since her detention is arbitrary as it seems to be only aimed at punishing her for her peaceful and legitimate human rights activities;
- Quash the convictions of Chhim Sithar, Chhim Sokhorn, Hay Sopheap, Kleang Soben, Sun Srey Pich, Touch Sereymeas, Ry Sovandy, Sok Narith and Sok Kongkea, and put an end to all acts of harassment - including at the judicial level - against them, all other union leaders and members, and all other human rights defenders in Cambodia, and ensure that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities in all circumstances without any hindrance and fear of reprisals;
- Guarantee in all circumstances labour rights in the country, including the right to strike, as enshrined in international human rights law and particularly in Articles 6 to 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Cambodia is a state party.
- Mr. Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mr. Sar Kheng, Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: email@example.com
- Mr. KOEUT Rith, Minister of Justice of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mr. Prak Sokhon, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Kingdom of Cambodia. Email: email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mr. Ly Chantola, President of the Cambodian Bar Association. Email: email@example.com
- Ambassador Mr. Ney Samol, Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Cambodia to the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please also write to the diplomatic representations of Cambodia in your respective countries.
Paris-Geneva, May 26, 2023
Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.
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