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Cambodian woman says police assault during strike led to miscarriage

A Cambodian woman said a physical assault she suffered at the hands of police officers during a labor protest outside the NagaWorld Casino may have led to the death of her unborn child.

Sok Ratana told RFA’s Khmer Service that she had been pregnant when she joined the ongoing strike outside the casino’s offices on May 11. The police pushed and shoved her during the protest, she said. Fearing they may have hurt her baby in utero, she went to her doctor, who told her that the baby only had a 50% chance to live.

Sok Ratana said that she miscarried on May 28. The doctor told her that the baby had likely died two days before he removed it from her womb, she said.

“Losing my beloved baby has caused me an unbelievable pain that I will feel the rest of my life,” said Sok Ratana. “This experience has shown me the brutality of the authorities and it has deeply hurt my family.”

Sok Ratana is one of thousands of NagaWorld workers who 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. The business is owned by a Hong Kong-based company believed to have connections to family members of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The strikers began holding regular protest rallies in front of the casino. Cambodian authorities have said their gatherings were “illegal” and alleged that they are part of a plot to topple the government, backed by foreign donors.

Authorities began mass detentions of the protesters, claiming that they were violating coronavirus restrictions. They often resorted to violence to force hundreds of workers onto buses.

“The labor dispute has turned to a dispute with authorities because they constantly crack down on us without any clemency,” Sok Ratana said. “I never thought that Cambodia has a law saying that when workers demand rights … authorities can crack down on us.”

She said that authorities worked with the company to pressure workers to stop the strike. She urged the government to better train its security forces to not become violent.

Kata Orn, spokesperson of the government-aligned Cambodia Human Rights Committee, expressed sympathy with Sok Ratana’s circumstance but said that it was too early to say whether the authorities were at fault. He urged Sok Ratana to file a complaint with the court.

“We can’t prejudge the loss due to the authorities. Only medical experts can tell,” he said. “We can [only] implement the law. It is applied equally to the workers and the authorities.”

Sok Ratana said she is working on collecting evidence to file a complaint, but she wasn’t confident a court will adjudicate the case fairly.

“I don’t have much hope because my union leader was jailed unjustly for nine weeks. Her changes have not been dropped yet,” she said. “To me, I don’t hope to get justice. From who? I want to ask, who can give me justice?”

Police violence is a serious human rights violation, Am Sam Ath of the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights told RFA. He urged relevant institutions to investigate the miscarriage and bring those responsible to justice.

“Labor disputes can’t be settled by violence and crackdowns. This will lead to even more disputes and the workers and authorities will try to get revenge,” he said.

The Labor Ministry has attempted to mediate the dispute between the casino and the union leaders, who have been released on bail, but no progress has been made after more than 10 meetings.

Am Sam Ath said the difficulty in resolving the labor dispute might push the government to crack down harder on the holdouts and make more arrests.

RFA attempted to contact Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesman San Sok Seiha and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs spokeswoman Man Chenda, but neither were available for comment.

 Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Eugene Whong.