Dozens of protestors donned orange prison jumpsuits outside the NagaWorld casino Monday after the Phnom Penh municipal court denied bail to union leader Chhim Sithar.
“I regret that the investigating judge did not allow Sithar out of custody because she had not violated any procedures or prohibitions placed under the court’s jurisdiction,” said Am Sam Ath, operations director for human rights group Licadho, which provides Sithar with legal representation.
Police detained Sithar at the Phnom Penh airport on November 26, after she returned from a trip to Australia, on the grounds she had violated the terms of her bail for a previous arrest.
Sithar’s legal team will appeal the court’s decision, claiming the court had not issued an order barring Sithar from travel abroad before her trip, Sam Ath said.
But the court said Sithar was required to seek its permission before leaving Cambodian territory, according to a November 29 statement.
“If the accused deliberately evades the obligation of judicial review, the investigating judge may decide to imprison the accused temporarily,” according to Article 230 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the court stated.
“The accusation that the accused was not aware of the order subjecting her to judicial review demonstrates her desire to avoid accountability before the law even further,” the court statement added.
Sithar’s lawyer Sam Sokunthea declined to comment. Her other lawyer Sam Chamroeun confirmed the court’s refusal to release Sithar on bail but did not provide additional information.
Sithar, president of the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld, had previously been arrested in January on charges of incitement. She was later released on the condition that she refrain from participating in the ongoing strike by NagaWorld employees and followed all the court’s requirements, Sam Ath said.
Immigration authorities should not have allowed her to leave the country if this violated the court’s conditions, said striking NagaWorld employee Pan Rondavid.
“I think this is an immigration police mistake because they let Sithar go abroad, they don’t know how it works,” he said. “I want the government to release our union leader and find justice in this labor dispute for us.”
The Australian embassy and the U.S. Department of State issued statements expressing concern about Sithar’s arrest and urging Cambodian authorities to find a solution to the nearly one year long NagaWorld dispute.
“We urge Cambodian authorities to release Chhim Sithar and all detained trade unionists exercising their rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, drop charges against them, and move to constructively resolve their disputes,” said U.S. State Department spokesperson Ned Price on November 29.
“Australia is concerned by the arrest of Chhim Sithar…after returning from an overseas trip,” the Australian embassy stated on November 30. “We continue to call on relevant Cambodian government ministries to mediate a fair, equitable solution to this dispute — as well as ensuring that political and labor rights are protected.”
Last year, NagaWorld laid off 1,300 workers, allegedly targeting union members and leaders for termination, according to the NagaWorld strikers.
Along with Sithar, seven other union leaders served time in prison on charges of incitement for their involvement in the strike. They were released on bail in March.
In November, another seven union members were questioned by the court after NagaCorp accused them of breaking and entering into a building and illegal detention and detention.
Outside NagaWorld’s entrance, laid off employee Chan Sreyroth said she was wearing orange prison clothes to symbolize the injustice of Sithar’s renewed incarceration.
“We wear these kinds of clothes to show to the public and the ministry that we want Chhim Sithar free,” she said. “We are not doing a color revolution, we just want justice and a solution.”