AN Interior Ministry spokesman said Sunday that officials would allow a weeklong protest, proposed by the brother of slain labour union leader Chea Vichea, to take place as long as it adheres to a recently passed demonstration law that critics have slammed as undemocratic.
On Friday, union leaders and opposition lawmakers threatened to hold a week-long strike if authorities failed to find the perpetrators who gunned down Chea Vichea at a newsstand in the capital six years ago.
Khieu Sopheak said Sunday that Free Trade Union President Chea Mony was free to call for a strike, but that he must respect the law.
“If he abides by the law, we will give him permission,” Khieu Sopheak said, adding that the government would take “legal action” against Chea Mony if the law is not obeyed.
Criticism of protest law
But critics have slammed the law that governs protests, warning that it could restrict freedom of expression.
The Law on Nonviolent Demonstrations, approved by the National Assembly last October, requires that organisers apply for official permits from the government 12 hours ahead of time if gatherings are to include more than 200 people. According to Chea Mony, 70,000 garment workers are members of the FTU.
Opposition parties warned when the law was passed that it would allow authorities to use security concerns as a “pretext” for snuffing out legitimate protests.
Khieu Sopheak also said Sunday that he did not believe many workers would participate in such a strike because of the potential loss to their incomes.
“I believe workers understand the consequences of demonstrations and strikes,” he said. “If they strike, it is like they are kicking out their own rice pots.”
Chea Vichea’s killing, on January 22, 2004, prompted authorities to arrest two men who Chea Mony believed were innocent. The Supreme Court ordered the pair’s release in December 2008, citing contradictory evidence. The two men, Born Samnang and Sok Samoeun, remain free, pending a new investigation.
“We want to give a message to the government,” Chea Mony said Friday. “It is time to bring the real perpetrators to face the courts.… If you do not find the real killers, we will choose a date to strike.”