Cambodian authorities have accused a group of NagaWorld workers involved in a protest against the treatment of 365 former employees laid off by the company last April of being part of a conspiracy.
At a joint press conference held earlier this week, senior police officials alongside representatives of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court said they had gathered evidence that protest leaders had accepted financial support from organized groups both within and outside of Cambodia and totalling “tens of thousands of dollars” in order to ensure the protests took place, according to a report by The Phnom Penh Post.
The authorities also allege that they have found messages containing incitement to commit violence against the police.
“In our investigation, we have collected a lot of evidence such as computers, smartphones and other materials used to organise the protests,” said Municipal deputy police chief Bun Sok Sekha.
“We have seen evidence that they were supported by two NGOs abroad and one NGO in Cambodia.”
The accusations follow the recent arrest of nine protesters, since charged with “incitement to commit a felony”, and the detention of another 17 people for questioning in relation to the protests, which have been taking place in the Cambodian capital city since mid-December.
The arrests have caught the eye of the international community, with the US embassy releasing a statement of its own this week expressing concern over the actions taken by authorities.
“We are following closely the troubling arrests of NagaWorld union members for their peaceful protest and urge authorities to hear citizens, not silence them,” the statement said.
“Freedoms of speech, assembly and association are guaranteed in the Cambodian constitution.”
However, according to The Phnom Penh Post, Municipal court prosecutor Seng Hieng said the arrested protestors had confessed to receiving financial support to organize the protests while “hiding under the cover of peaceful protest”.
“It is not a small issue,” Hieng said. “What motivated this group to receive illegal financial support from outside and inside the country to organise this illegal movement? Moreover, the confessions from the suspects are consistent with the evidence that the police had collected and submitted to court.”
NagaWorld’s parent company NagaCorp confirmed last June that it had laid off a number of staff in order to maintain operational and financial flexibility while operations in Cambodia were suspended due to COVID-19.
The company said at the time that it had taken “proactive measures to manage the situation” including a rationalization program to improve cost efficiency, but added it was providing affected employees with “enhanced termination compensation over and above payments required by the applicable Cambodian laws to assist their transition into other career or business interests.”
The majority of affected employees have signed mutual separation agreements, it said.
NagaCorp was looking to save up to US$2 million per month in run-rate operating costs when the workers were let go.