Openly flouting the government’s sporadically enforced ban on public assembly, Free Trade Union leader Chea Mony yesterday led a crowd of supporters on a march through the capital to the statue of his late brother, Chea Vichea, to mark the 10-year anniversary of the murdered unionist’s death.
Though authorities have been quick to crack down on gatherings of even a handful of people, Mony was allowed to lead about 100 followers from the FTU offices to Wat Lanka, the site of Vichea’s assassination, where he was joined by more supporters, as well as Cambodia National Rescue Party leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha and lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua.
The crowd of more than 200 finally stopped in front of the statue of Vichea just north of the pagoda, where Mony, Rainsy, Sokha and others invoked the killing of garment workers earlier this month as they spoke about the injustice of the slain activist’s still-unsolved murder.
“Now Cambodia is soaking wet with workers’ blood, the blood of protectors of workers, the blood of union leaders,” Rainsy said. “I would like to call on all Khmers to unite to end violence in Cambodia, especially political violence.”
Mony also called for a halt to the violence against civilians.
“Please do not shoot people, politicians, artists and workers,” he said. “The government cannot deny that [the armed forces] actually stood and shot workers.”
He also demanded that the government find those responsible for his brother’s death, maintaining that the government could not simply let the case fall by the wayside.
Vichea was shot at a newsstand near Wat Lanka in 2004 while reading the paper by an unknown assailant who jumped on the back of an accomplice’s motorbike and sped off. The government’s investigation into the murder was roundly criticised, and the two men eventually convicted were found to be innocent and released last year, but only after years in prison.
However, a meaningful investigation into the killing is highly unlikely for the simple fact that the government would be investigating itself, said Bradley Cox, director of the documentary Who Killed Chea Vichea?.
“I hate to say it, but I think it’s unrealistic to expect the Cambodian government or the police to launch a serious investigation into the murder of Chea Vichea,” Cox said in an email. “Why? Because they would only be exposing themselves, the people in power. And who in their right mind would want to do that? So I think we have to be content in knowing that at least the wrong people aren’t still being punished for it.”
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said Cox’s accusation lacked evidence. “If someone comes with proof, then the government would consider it,” he said. “Who is wrong or right, no one can say but the judge. We need to bring it before the court.”
Although yesterday’s march went off without a confrontation with police, Phnom Penh Municipality spokesman Long Dimanche said that Mony had nonetheless violated the law. There had been no crackdown because the parties had come to an understanding, he added, while declining to elaborate.
“This was an abuse of the law,” he said. “There was not any problem taking place, [but] if there was any problem happening, [Mony] would be responsible.”
Pung Chhiv Kek, president of the rights group Licadho, said she was happy that Mony had been able to hold his march, but suspected that, despite the political undertones, this case was “different from a normal march”.
“It’s for the anniversary for [Vichea’s] death, so it’s a religious ceremony,” she said. “They have to let him do that.”
Chea Mony, for his part, acknowledged that he did not have official permission, but said that had been the case with his last nine anniversary marches as well.
“Every year I must march and City Hall does not permit it, saying that there is a ban, [but] the ban is just made after” the march is done, Mony said.