Four striking former NagaWorld employees have been summoned by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to appear for questioning over their alleged blocking of implementation of Covid-19 preventive measures at the ongoing protests.

According to four separate summons letters issued by prosecutor Seng Hieng on February 5, the four protesters were Meng Kaknika, Eng Srey Bo, Uk Sopheak Molika, and Kheng Chenda.

They are due to appear at the municipal police headquarters on February 19 for the charge of “blocking the enforcement of Covid-19 measures”.

“This permits judicial police to bring the individual to appear immediately,” the warrant states, meaning that police have the authority to arrest and bring them in for questioning.

Hundreds of former NagaWorld staff have been protesting for over two months, demanding the reinstatement of 365 union-registered workers who were laid off in April last year. Among other claims, they said the management refused to negotiate with the union, instead insisting that workers represent themselves in severance discussions.

Amid the ongoing protest, the Ministry of Health has urged them to be tested for Covid-19 after one of them tested positive.

The Institut Pasteur du Cambodge confirmed that the protester – on a visit to the medical research centre on January 28 for a routine pregnancy check-up – carried the highly transmissible Omicron variant, health minister Mam Bunheng said in a February 4 press statement.

“Thus, to avoid a large-scale Covid-19 outbreak, especially of the Omicron variant, [the ministry] appeals to all protesters to take Covid-19 tests at the designated location at Koh Pich [Convention and Exhibition Centre] within three days from the day of this announcement,” Bun Heng said.

According to current legislation, anyone who tests positive for Covid-19 must enter isolation and receive treatment as advised by a medical practitioner.

Following the ministry’s announcement, the Phnom Penh Municipal Commission to Combat Covid-19, led by the municipal hall, issued a directive telling the strikers to immediately halt protests. The commission also ordered them to practice appropriate health measures to prevent the virus from spreading among them and their families.

The February 4 directive said municipal authorities would take legal action against any individual in breach of Covid-19 health and administrative measures.

According to the directive, protester representative identified as Choup Channat had requested medical specialists take samples for Covid-19 tests at the rally, but that protesters were allegedly uncooperative when personnel arrived at the scene.

It also insisted that the strikers cease the protests immediately to prevent a large-scale outbreak of Omicron within the community and that they follow health measures until it can be assured that there was no transmission of the virus among them.

“Should protesters be defiant and continue to assemble for rallies, which could be a catalyst for a community outbreak of Covid-19, the individuals causing trouble – by not following the health and administrative measures – will be legally responsible according to the Covid-19 laws, liable to fines or imprisonment,” the directive said.

The commission made a plea to protesters to cooperate with the directive – “for the sake of their lives and those of their families” – and to avert the catastrophic effects that would be brought upon by a potential community outbreak.