Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Supreme Court Upholds Lower Court’s Verdict Against Chhim Sithar, Calls It “Fair Decision”

NagaWorld union members gather in front of the Supreme Court to support their colleagues who are on trial in Phnom Penh on April 26, 2024. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)
NagaWorld union members gather in front of the Supreme Court to support their colleagues who are on trial in Phnom Penh on April 26, 2024. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)

Members of Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees of NagaWorld (LRSU) said they have lost hope on the judiciary following the Supreme Court’s verdict to uphold Phnom Penh Municipal Court’s decision on LRSU president Chhim Sithar on May 3. The Supreme Court found the decision by the lower court as “fair”.

Last week, lawyers defending Sithar and eight other union members appealed the municipal court and later Court of Appeal’s decision to the Supreme Court, urging the judiciary to drop their charges on the basis that the ruling was “inconsistent with the law” and “unreasonable”. 

Nil Nonn, Supreme Court chief judge, upheld the municipal court’s decision to convict Chhim Sithar and six other union leaders on charges of  “incitement to disturb social security” under Articles 494 and 495 of the Penal Code. 

Approximately 30 LRSU members gathered in front of the court with banners on Friday as a show of support for the defendants. They called for an end to the “use of the judiciary” to intimidate, arrest, and detain union leaders. “Demanding freedom of association is not a crime. Stop using the judiciary to threaten union leaders or detain them.”

Yang Sophorn, president of  Cambodian Alliance of Trade Unions (CATU) told CamboJA that she has lost hope on the apex court’s decision on Sithar and the other union members. Sophorn added that criminal charges were not fair.

“When the case went to the Supreme Court, we hoped there would be a  change of decision [on LRSU] but [the court] upheld it,” she said, adding that Sithar and the others continue to face injustice.

Sophorn added that the labor dispute at NagaWorld was a wrong charge on them, as they did not commit the crime as alleged.

“The charges are an accusation as she didn’t commit any criminal act like what the court charged them for,” said Sophorn.

Sithar and eight union members, Chhim Sokhon, Hay Sopheap, Khleang Soben, Ry Sovandy, Sok Kongkea, Sok Narith, Sun Srey Pich and Touch Serey Meas were arrested in 2022. 

Khleang Soben, an LRSU union member, told CamboJA that the evidence presented by the prosecution on the union was part of their union activity where they were advocating for their rights with regards to the labor dispute with the company. The strikes were not related to incitement.

“At first we expected that the Supreme Court would render us justice but the court upheld the lower court decision as valid. It’s very regretful. The Supreme Court case was just a show,” said Soben.

Chim Ratha, a NagaWorld worker, who was in tears, told reporters that she felt hopeless with the court decision but “no matter what happens, they would still fight for justice and continue to strike”.

“We should receive the justice that we deserve. What I want is for the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training and the government to solve labor disputes  which are a result of NagaWorld’s violation of labor rights,” Ratha said. 

Bryony Lau, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch told CamboJA that Friday’s decision which upheld the “politically-motivated verdict” against labor activist Sithar – days before Cambodia’s human rights record will be reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council.

On May 8, Cambodia will appear before the UN Human Rights Council for its Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, where Cambodia’s human rights record will be reviewed.

It showed Prime Minister Hun Manet’s disregard for international human rights standards, she remarked.

“Instead of releasing Sithar, the Manet government has decided to double down and prolong Sithar’s incarceration and risk the immediate imprisonment of an additional five LRSU,” Lau said.