Supporters Defy Ban to Mark Anniversary of Cambodian Union Leader’s Death

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cambodia-chea-vichea-anniversary-jan-2014.JPG Opposition officials speak during a ceremony marking the anniversary of the death of Chea Vichea next to a statue of the late leader in Phnom Penh, Jan. 22, 2014.

Leaders of Cambodian unions and the main opposition party participated in a march Wednesday through the capital Phnom Penh to mark the tenth anniversary of the murder of labor leader Chea Vichea, disregarding a government ban on rallies following a deadly crackdown on a factory workers’ strike earlier this month.

Chea Vichea, an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government and the former president of Cambodia’s Free Trade Union (FTU)—one of the biggest unions in the country—was shot dead on Jan. 22, 2004 by an unknown assailant while he was reading a newspaper at a stand in the capital.

Rights groups have said that his murder highlighted a culture of impunity in Cambodia, where a number of killings, including those of journalists and rights campaigners, have not been thoroughly investigated and the perpetrators not brought to justice.

More than 100 unionists, workers, and members of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) took part in the march Wednesday, carrying garlands from the FTU headquarters to a 2-meter (7-foot) stone statue of Chea Vichea, which stands in a public garden near the newspaper stand where he was shot.

Police looked on without disturbing the march, led by CNRP president Sam Rainsy and deputy president Kem Sokha, and by Chea Mony, who succeeded Chea Vichea as head of the umbrella trade union group.

Chea Mony said he had submitted a request to hold Wednesday's march days earlier but was denied permission by city officials.

Phnom Penh authorities imposed a ban on street protests earlier this month following a crackdown on opposition protests and a labor strike in which four people were shot dead.

Chea Mony called on the government to “stop spilling the blood of Cambodians, including unionists” following a ceremony at the park.

He also called on authorities to find the real perpetrators behind his brother’s murder, following the September Supreme Court decision to release two men seen by rights groups as “scapegoats” for the crime after they had spent nearly five years in jail.

“Sok Sam Oeun and Born Samnang have been released and yesterday we received a warrant from the Supreme Court calling on the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to reinvestigate Chea Vichea's case,” he said.

Chea Mony said he would file another complaint with authorities to “arrest Chea Vichea's real killers.”

Chea Vichea founded the FTU with CNRP President Sam Rainsy, who on Wednesday vowed to “push the government” to apprehend his murderers.

He urged the public to help find the perpetrators and slammed authorities for failing to provide justice to the late union leader’s family.

“We must end this culture of violence and impunity,” Sam Rainsy said, referring to Chea Vichea’s murder and those of other high-profile activists, including two other union leaders and a forest activist.

“This is the time to end impunity and bring about peace to people across the country.”

RFA’s Khmer Service was unable to contact Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak for comment Wednesday on the investigation into Chea Vichea’s case.

Recent crackdown

Wednesday’s march came more than two weeks after police shot dead four people during a strike by garment workers in the outskirts of Phnom Penh and violently dispersed CNRP supporters at the capital's Freedom Park after they demanded that Hun Sen step down and hold fresh elections.

The garment workers had been demanding an increase in wages to U.S. $160 per month—nearly double their current rate—and better working conditions.

The CNRP claimed it was robbed of victory in July 2013 elections, which it said were marred by fraud and other irregularities. The government-appointed election body declared Hun Sen's CPP the victor and dismissed calls for an independent investigation by the CNRP, which has boycotted parliament.

According to a report by Agence France-Presse, union members are planning a large demonstration on Sunday to demand the release of 23 people arrested during the deadly Jan. 3 crackdown.

On Tuesday, police broke up a rally in the capital and briefly detained 11 activists who were calling for international assistance to secure the release of protesters.

Also on Tuesday, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court began a retrial of the 2007 murder of Hy Vuthy, late president of the FTU at a garment factory in the capital, local media reported.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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