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City restricts union march

Phnom Penh municipal authorities have granted permission for unionists to hold a march through the city in memory of slain unionist Chea Vichea, though they have imposed restrictions on where and how the group can assemble.

In a meeting at City Hall on Wednesday, Koeut Chhe, deputy chief of the municipal cabinet, said 250 members of the Free Trade Union would be permitted to participate in the march, but that they would not be permitted to carry banners make public statements.

According to a report of the meeting obtained today, Koeut Chhe also said the march would be barred from passing Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house near Independence Monument, and warned that the ceremony must not be used as a platform for FTU members to make political statements.

“If the participants do not respect the above conditions, the permit holder must be completely responsible before the law,” the report quoted Koeut Chhe as saying.

Unionists march each year to mark the gunning down of former FTU president Chea Vichea on January 22, 2004, at a newspaper stand near Phnom Penh’s Wat Lanka.

Though two men were arrested in connection with Chea Vichea’s killing, they were released in 2009 and rights activists have urged the government to track down those responsible.

Authorities have also moved to break up several planned screenings of Who Killed Chea Vichea?, a 2009 film directed by American Bradley Cox which explores the unionist’s killing.

According to the Kingdom’s law on Peaceful Demonstrations, passed in October 2009, public protests are restricted to crowds of fewer than 200 people and require at least three representatives to register their identification cards with local authorities at least five days prior to the protest.

Demonstrations are also banned after dark.

Koeut Chhe could not be reached for comment today.

But Chea Vichea’s brother and current FTU President Chea Mony strongly criticised the city’s preconditions.

He said that the FTU wrote to the authorities on January 10 not to ask permission, but only to inform them that the celebration would take place, describing the restrictions as an impingement on the freedom of assembly.

“The government has always restricted democrats. We are not killers,” he said. “If they do not allow the parade, I’ll still do it.”

Chea Mony also called upon politicians from other parties to participate in the ceremony.

He declared that if Prime Minister Hun Sen wanted them to avoid his villa, he should make the demand himself.

Human Rights Party President Kem Sokha said he planned to inform members of his party to join with the FTU during the march.

He added that the authorities’ restrictions were evidence that they were ill-prepared to provide security for the people.

“The right to freedom of expression cannot be banned except when [people] use violence and incitement,” he said.

“If the government refuses to allow the FTU to make statements, it appears to be seriously restricting the rights of the people.”

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