Cambodia’s government has banned relatives and supporters from holding a march in the capital Phnom Penh to mark the 12th anniversary of the murder of prominent union leader Chea Vichea on Friday.
The outspoken critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government and former president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC) was gunned down on Jan. 22, 2004 while reading a newspaper at a kiosk and his killers have yet to be brought to justice.
Phnom Penh municipal government spokesman Long Diamanche said Wednesday that while relatives and supporters may observe the anniversary of Chea Vichea’s murder, they couldn’t use the event to “promote a political agenda.”
“The do not have permission to use the day to promote a political agenda, [as this] would negatively affect the King, the government, and the country’s stability,” he said.
“There must not be any acts of instigation which might cause the damage to the nation. We don’t want anything like that to happen [during the ceremony].”
The city denied permission to hold a march to mark the occasion, he said, and had also banned “the delivery of any political message or verbal attack against the leaders of the government.”
Relatives and supporters are free to conduct prayers of tribute and place flowers at the two-meter (seven-foot) statue of the late union leader, which stands in a public garden near the country’s Independence Monument in the capital, he added.
Chea Mony, current FTUWKC president and brother of Chea Vichea, told RFA’s Khmer Service that the ban was a violation of the rights and freedom of the Cambodian people.
“If they don’t want us to speak out, then arrest the murderers, because those who know what happened are still alive—especially [officials from] the Ministry of Interior,” he said.
“[We] know that the Ministry of Interior is capable enough [to find his killers]. It is not that [the ministry] lacks the technical knowhow, but whether it is willing to arrest the murderers or not.”
Chea Mony questioned the efforts of a special inter-ministerial committee to investigate the murders of his brother and two other union leaders, noting that it had failed to produce any results in the nearly five months since it was established.
“Although the government established the committee to investigate the case, it exists only on paper,” Chea Mony said.
“As it exists only on paper and there is no enforcement, why wouldn’t we criticize [the government’s efforts]? Or perhaps they only want to kill us to shut us up.”
The special investigative committee was announced in June 2015 and established in September to resolve criminal case file 2318 regarding the murders of Chea Vichea, and factory FTUWKC union leaders Ros Sovannareth and Hy Vuthy.
Four months after Chea Vichea was killed, Ros Sovannareth, FTUWKC president of the Trinunggal Komara factory, was gunned down in Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district while he was riding his motorbike.
In February 2007, Hy Vuthy, FTUWKC president at the Suntex garment factory, was shot dead while riding his motorbike home after finishing his night shift at the factory, located in Phnom Penh's Dangkao district. Two men on a motorbike reportedly carried out the murder.
Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator with Cambodian rights group Licadho told RFA that the government “must show real will to seek and arrest the murderer(s)” of Chea Vichea and the other union leaders, whose cases highlight a culture of impunity in the country.
“Although Hun Sen formed the inter-ministerial committee on Sept. 15, 2015 to investigate the murder cases … the authorities have no will to find justice for the victims’ families,” he said.
“[This is clear] because the committee … still lacks any leads in its investigation.”
Am Sam Ath called the formation of the committee an attempt by the government to “gain political popularity and manipulate public perception by suggesting that the investigation into the cases is still active.”
In all three cases, suspects widely seen as scapegoats were convicted of the crimes, but later freed due to lack of evidence.
Freedom of expression
Wednesday’s ban came on the heels of concerns by local rights group Cambodia Development of People’s Livelihood Association (CDPLA) that workers have faced increasing infringement of their freedom of expression in recent months, citing several violent crackdowns on labor protests by authorities.
In a statement issued on Jan. 19 CDPLA said the right of citizens from all walks of life to voice their opinions had been seriously curtailed during the period, though laborers in all of Cambodia’s industries were particularly targeted.
CDPLA noted the use of violence in October last year by authorities to break up a protest by hundreds of workers from the Hong Kong-owned Agile sweater factory in Kompong Speu province who demanded the release of two colleagues jailed on incitement charges after seeking to establish a new union branch at the facility.
The group also highlighted an incident in which police forcefully broke up an August protest by dozens of drivers who were dismissed from the Capitol Tours Bus Company in Phnom Penh and told they would only be rehired if they signed contracts agreeing to limit their rights.
CDPLA called on government leaders to assist the Agile workers and Capitol Tours bus drivers in getting their jobs back and to arrest the perpetrators of violence against them according to the law.
Reported by Thai Tha and Pisey Sem for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Pagnawath Khun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.