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Supporters of 21 to march to embassies

Activists may find themselves in a showdown with police this morning during a planned vigil on Phnom Penh’s riverside and a march to several embassies.

National Military Police spokesman Kheng Tito said yesterday that people supporting the release of 21 people detained during a garment strike in early January do not have the right to march to embassies to deliver petitions.

“[Police] may be force[d] to stop them,” Tito said in a text message. Representatives from NGOs, unions and other groups are free to deliver the petitions, he added, but they may not march.

After a 9am press conference at the Imperial Garden Villa and Hotel, more than 350 unionists, families of those detained and other activists are expected to march to Preah Ang Dongker, across from the Royal Palace, for a prayer service and to release balloons in support of the 21 detainees, a day ahead of their bail hearing, said Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers.

Participants will then march to embassies, including those of the US, France and China, to deliver petitions calling for the release of the 21 remaining detainees arrested during demonstrations on January 2 and 3, Sina said.

Two of the original 23 arrested were released on bail on Saturday. Phnom Penh Municipal spokesman Long Dimanche said yesterday that City Hall has not received a request from the group to hold a demonstration of any kind.

He added that he was unsure of whether police will crack down on the vigil or marches.

The prayer service and subsequent march to deliver petitions coincides with planned peaceful solidarity demonstrations supporting the cause in at least 13 different countries, including South Korea, Belgium and the US.

Another crackdown could prove ruinous to the Cambodian government’s reputation in the international community, said Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center.

“With the international solidarity efforts tomorrow, if word of a violent crackdown were to get around, it would certainly not play well internationally,” Welsh said.

With their Tuesday bail hearing at the Court of Appeal approaching, the 21 have begun a hunger strike, protesting their continued detention, family members of detainees said yesterday.

The hunger strike, which started yesterday, will continue until the courts release the prisoners, said Prak Sovannary, wife of Vorn Pov, president of the Independent Democratic Association of Informal Economic (IDEA), who was arrested on January 2.

“When I visited [Pov] on Friday, he told me [detainees] were not wrong,” Sovannary said. “[Pov said] they did not use violence against anyone and demand their release.”

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