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A man walks past Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park in 2014, where razor wire and other barricades had been placed to prevent a May Day demonstration and march. Vireak Mai

City Hall to prohibit May Day protests by unions

A city Hall spokesman announced yesterday that the municipality will ban any public gatherings by unions representing many of the garment sector’s 700,000 workers on International Workers’ Day, even as Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday reportedly touted the country’s achievements in the sector in a speech marking the day.

Ath Thorn, president of the Cambodian Labour Confederation, said the confederation submitted a notification on April 10 informing the municipality of its plans to gather about 3,000 workers near Wat Phnom on May 1. It also informed officials of a march to the National Assembly to deliver a petition seeking amendments to various articles of the controversial Trade Union Law.

As of yesterday, Thorn said he has not received a response.

But Met Measpheakdey, spokesman for the municipality, said City Hall had already made a decision not to allow the activities. Instead, he said, unions can commemorate the day at their offices or at private venues. “We expect that they will obey the City Hall’s decision,” he said.

Measpheakdey attributed the ban to concerns about security, public order and traffic jams. Under the Law on Peaceful Demonstrations, however, if municipal authorities “have clear information indicating that the demonstration may cause danger or would seriously jeopardise security, safety and public order”, the municipality should “immediately” respond to those seeking to demonstrate so that solutions can be discussed. If both parties fail to reach a solution, the municipality should request the Minister of Interior to “provide a decisive opinion”.

But neither took place. “We decided by ourselves,” Measpheakdey said. Thorn maintained this “was a clear violation of the law”.Moeun Tola, head of labour rights group Central, agreed that City Hall’s decision was a violation of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

“But the government doesn’t care,” he added. Thorn said the confederation plans to proceed with its activities as planned.

Meanwhile, Hun Sen yesterday gave a speech ahead of International Workers’ Day touting what he characterised as Cambodian workers’ decent wages and living conditions, according to Som Soeun, president of the National Union Federation of Cambodia, who was at the speech. “Samdech did not express concerns, but only raised . . . achievements,” he said.

Additional reporting by Mech Dara

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