Unionists today marked the anniversary of the killing of prominent union leader Chea Vichea on the same day his brother, Chea Mony, failed to appear before the Phnom Penh Municipal Court in response to a summons over his calls for economic sanctions on Cambodia following a political crackdown on the opposition.

Vichea, the founder of the Free Trade Union (FTU), was gunned down in broad daylight in 2004 outside a newsstand in front of Phnom Penh’s Wat Langka, with two suspects – Born Samnang and Ouk Sam Ouen – convicted for the murder, despite a lack of evidence. They were ultimately exonerated after serving five years in prison.

Vichea's brother, Mony, has been a vociferous supporter of the opposition and is a former president of the union. He is now facing legal hassles after he told Radio Free Asia that the European Union and United States should consider economic sanctions on the country following the widely condemned dissolution of the Cambodia National Rescue Party in November. The remarks prompted a coalition of pro-government union leaders to file a complaint against him, asking for $1 million in damages and calling for "incitement" charges.

Mony did not attend his court questioning, according to FTU Deputy President Man Senghak, who said he had left the country.

“Chea Mony is abroad. The court wants him to clarify [his comments] so I don’t know if he will go,” Senghak said.

Phnom Penh court spokesmen Ly Sophanna and Y Rin declined to comment on Mony’s absence today.

Meanwhile, on Sihanouk Boulevard, where a memorial statue of Vichea stands, union members conducted a prayer ceremony and called for the killing to be investigated and for the real culprits to be convicted.

While City Hall allowed for only 120 participants, former unionist Rong Chhun said the current political climate seemed to have also dampened interest in marking the day.

“This year's number of participants was small because the city limited the number of people, some factories did not allow unions to participate and also the fear of the political situation,” said Chhun, who is a former president of the Cambodian Independent Teachers Association.