Authorities in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh again detained more than 100 striking NagaWorld Casino workers Friday, in the latest in a series of brutal mass arrests since the strike started more than three months ago.
Some of the 158 strikers who were detained this time told RFA’s Khmer Service that they were forced into buses and taken to a quarantine facility on the outskirts of town but were not allowed to leave the buses for several hours, enduring extreme heat until the point that some of them began to vomit.
“It was awful. We are just workers. They used such brutal measures. The authorities pushed me into a truck and my arm was injured when they detained me,” Pov Raksmey told RFA.
Lay Sopheaktra, another detained worker, told RFA that she felt the authorities wanted to torture the workers so that they would not dare to gather for more protests.
“I am very sad that we are protesting for our jobs, but the authorities are denying our rights and assaulting us,” she said.
Thousands of NagaWorld workers walked off their jobs in mid-December, demanding higher wages and the reinstatement of eight jailed union leaders, three other jailed workers and 365 others they say were unjustly fired from the hotel and casino, which is owned by a Hong Kong-based company believed to have connections to family members of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Cambodian authorities have called the strike “illegal” and alleged that it is supported by foreign donors as a plot to topple the government. But a series of mass arrests in recent weeks have been attributed to alleged violations of pandemic health regulations in Cambodia’s capital. Activists said the charges were trumped up to break up the strike.
RFA reported Wednesday that 147 of the fired workers accepted compensation, but the remaining strikers are still calling for their union leaders to be released and for the company to negotiate with them.
RFA attempted to reach Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesman San Sok Seiha for comment about Friday’s arrests, but he was not available.
A Cambodian labor advocacy group told RFA that the authorities have used similar tactics to break up peaceful protests.
“The authorities and NagaWorld Casino need to seek a solution. If they continue violence, the crisis will be deepened,” said Khun Tharo, the labor program manager for Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights
He urged the Ministry of Labor to intervene the release of 11 union leaders and workers who are being jailed to allow the workers and the NagaWorld to resume talks.
The workers arrested Friday said authorities released them from the quarantine center after detaining them without medical attentions for a few hours. They said they will continue their fight if there is no solution.
RFA reported Tuesday that Cambodia’s Minister of Interior Sar Kheng was planning to lead a meeting of governmental officials on Wednesday to resolve the dispute.
Also on Wednesday, Phnom Penh authorities released around 200 strikers detained a day earlier while they were protesting.
On Thursday, an appeals court denied bail to the eight union leaders on the grounds that their case is still under investigation by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.