Phnom Penh Municipal Hall spokesman Met Meas Pheakdey told The Post on Monday that it will likely allow a ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of the murder of union leader Chea Vichea, adding that the decision is subject to Governor Khung Sreng’s approval.
Vichea, the founder of the Free Trade Union (FTU), was gunned down in broad daylight in 2004 outside a news stand in front of Phnom Penh’s Wat Langka. Two suspects – Born Samnang and Ouk Sam Ouen – were jailed for the murder, but the convictions proved controversial due to a lack of evidence.
In a letter sent to the municipal hall, unionists expressed their intention to conduct a prayer ceremony next to the memorial statue of Vichea on Sihanouk Boulevard marking the anniversary on January 22. Approximately 150 FTU members will congregate from 8:30am to pray for Vichea.
The municipal hall has received the letter, but it did not disclose the full details of the day’s programme, Meas Pheakdey said.
Pheakdey warned that the permit would be revoked if they “conduct activities other than what’s stated on the letter”.
“Marches involving many people are not usually permitted because they might affect public order and disrupt traffic. If they do something like that, they would bear the responsibility,” he said.
Meanwhile, Governor Sreng said the municipal hall has always given the go-ahead for unionists to gather and pay respect to Vichea each year.
“So far we have never prohibited them … As long as everything is [well] organised, not affecting the three million road users in the capital, it will remain that way,” he said.
Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union president Ath Thorn believes the murder of Vichea has not seen justice for 15 years.
“I think the assassination of Vichea represents a violation against freedom of the unions. It poses threats to the movements; it scares and traumatises the unions. The government needs to ensure that other unionists, including Chea Mony, will not be threatened anymore,” he said.
Ath Thorn and Chea Mony – Vichea’s brother – are among six union figures who were convicted for their roles in the 2013 Veng Sreng Boulevard protests. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced them to two and a half years in prison last month. They were also ordered to pay a 35 million riel ($8,715) fine each.
The Post’s attempts to reach Mony on Monday were unsuccessful. He is known to currently be in Thailand.
Ministry of Interior spokesperson Khieu Sopheak conceded that Vichea’s killing has not been completely resolved, but asked unionists to stop worrying about their safety.
“The murder of Vichea happened in the past . . . 15 years ago! Since then it has been quiet, so stop worrying and work harder,” he said.
Sopheak added that the government has formed a special committee to solve the Vichea’s case when asked if new evidence has been found amid an ongoing renewed investigation.