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(Bangkok)- Cambodian Human Rights Watch said today that the authorities should immediately and unconditionally release union president Chhim Sithar and drop the baseless criminal charges against him and eight other union members.

On March 14, 2023, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court heard the case against Chhim Sithar, president of the Labor Rights Supported Union (LRSU) of Khmer Employees of Nagaworld, and eight trade union members of the LSRU. The court reportedly questioned the LSRU members on their strike activities and sources of financial support and announced the resumption of hearing on March 21.

“Cambodian authorities are abusing the criminal justice system to target a union president and other labor rights activists,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “People like LRSU’s Chhim Sithar and other labor rights advocates face an increasingly uphill battle to defend workers’ rights as civic space narrows ahead of national elections scheduled for July.”

Sithar and union members Chhim Sokhorn, He Sophep, Klang Soben, Rai Sowendi, Sok Kongkea, Sok Narith, Sun Serepich and Touch Seremis were at the hearing on charges of “inciting to disturb social security”.

On January 3, 2022, Sithar was charged with “inciting to commit a felony” under Articles 494 and 495 of the Criminal Code of Cambodia. The next day, security officers in plainclothes approached Seether in a crowd violently arrested grabbing her around the neck and dragging her into a car when she attempted to join well publicized strike Against Nagaworld casino in Phnom Penh.

January 5, 2022 Four United Nations human rights experts issued a news release stating that “[t]That pattern and the manner of these arrests … appears to be an escalation of tactics used in previous cases that have occurred in Cambodia in recent years and have resulted in the wrongful imprisonment of human rights defenders. Ahead, “[t]As the country … prepares for national elections, the latest allegations and arrests are of particular concern [in 2023], This sends a chilling message to Cambodians to assemble freely in their place.

Sithar was kept in pre-trial custody for 74 days and was released on bail in March 2022. On 26 November, Sithar was returning from attending the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) World Congress in Australia when Cambodian authorities arrested her for violating bail conditions overseas. Neither he nor his lawyer was informed about the visit.

Since being released on bail, Sitar had traveled outside Cambodia to Thailand twice, in September and October, and did not face any restrictions upon his return. Human Rights Watch said Sithar’s arrest and detention appeared to be related to his meeting with other trade unions at the ITUC World Congress, a violation of his right to freedom of association.

during strike In Nagaworld, security force personnel slapped and forced peacefully striking workers on buses to break up the protest, and arbitrarily detained the leaders and members of the Sangh. Seether said at the time, “The authorities try to intimidate us. I am not afraid of getting arrested again. Even when I am not in prison, I cannot freely exercise my right to be a union leader. I can’t give up because of the threat of jail. I want to stand up for workers’ rights.

Under international human rights law and standards, workers may not be discriminated against or targeted for participating in trade union activities. This protection against anti-union discrimination includes dismissal for participating in union activity. The Cambodian government has an obligation under international human rights law to not only respect the rights of workers but also to protect these rights from abuse by private actors. These obligations are enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both treaties ratified by Cambodia, as well as the International Labor Organization (ILO) Convention No. 87, which protects rights Freedom of association and the right to organize.

“The government of Prime Minister Hun Sen must withdraw its increasing attacks on trade unions, independent mediaThe political protestAnd human rights defender as the July national election approaches,” said Robertson. “The European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom and Cambodia’s other major trading partners must make clear that such continued repression will strain relations long before election day.”

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