Cambodia’s Supreme Court Confirms Prison Sentence for Casino Strike Leader

Cambodia's Supreme Court has confirmed a lower court's two-year prison sentence of Chhim Sithar, the leader of the Labor Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees (LRSU) of NagaWorld, Cambodia's largest casino complex. Sithar was convicted of incitement to commit a felony, according to Cambodian law, when she organized a strike at the casino almost three years ago.

The NagaWorld casino complex in Cambodia at night. (Source: NagaCorp).

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The strike began in December 2021, protesting the layoff of 373 employees and alleged union-busting tactics by the casino. Despite the layoffs, some workers continued to protest, demanding the reemployment of the displaced workers.

Related: Century Entertainment Cancels Cambodian Casino Contract

In what many have viewed as nothing more than an attempt by the casino to quell the strikes, police began making arrests soon after the strikes started. It was an attempt to coerce the workers into giving up, but the strikes still linger almost three years later.

Sithar was first arrested in January 2022 following a demonstration. She was held for 74 days in pre-trial detention before being released on bail. Sithar was then arrested upon her return from Australia, where she had been advocating for human rights. She was accused of violating her parole, although neither the police nor the courts would share with her or her attorneys a copy of the parole conditions. The Associated Press confirmed the Supreme Court's ruling on May 3.

Human Rights Violations

Human rights organizations have accused Cambodia of violating human rights with the arrest and incarceration of Sithar. These groups argue that the charges against Sithar and other union members are politically motivated and aimed at suppressing labor activism and dissent.

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The LRSU has faced significant struggles since its inception. The union has been at the forefront of advocating for workers' rights in the face of layoffs and alleged union-busting activities. Its efforts have been met with resistance, including the arrest of Sithar and other union members.

The international community, including the US and the United Nations, has recognized Sithar's efforts, with the US Department of State naming her among the recipients of its annual Human Rights Defender Award. This acknowledgment stands in stark contrast to the Cambodian government's treatment of Sithar and her fellow unionists.

NagaWorld Revenue Struggles to Correct

NagaWorld, owned by NagaCorp, a company controlled by the family of Malaysian billionaire Chen Lip Keong, has been marked by the strikes and other challenges. As a result, the casino has faced a downturn in its financial performance.

The gross gaming revenue for NagaWorld in 2023 was reported to be down 70% from its 2019 figures. The net profit and EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of the company also saw substantial declines. The property's GGR for 2023 was $514.8 million, a fraction of the $1.7 billion it made in 2019 before the pandemic.


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