Fifty members of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC) plan to gather on January 22 for a ceremony to pay respects to the late union leader Chea Vichea, who was shot dead 17 years ago on January 22, 2004, in Phnom Penh.

Vichea was killed in front of a newspaper stand near Wat Langka pagoda. The Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has allowed his family to hold a ceremony there annually since his death.

FTUWKC president Touch Seu said the ceremony is attended every year by the union’s leaders and members and Vichea’s family and relatives.

“We requested permission for 150 people to attend the ceremony but the Phnom Penh Municipal Hall has only allowed us to have 50 people because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Our programme this time is nothing new compared to previous years. We will have monks recite prayers, lay wreathes and then say a few words to our members,” he said.

Municipal hall spokesman Met Meas Pheakdey said the municipal administration had agreed to allow the members of the union to organise the programme according to their traditions but they have to try to maintain social distancing.

“We allowed them to organise the programme at the site but without conducting a procession beforehand as they usually do. Only 50 people may attend in order to follow the Covid-19 preventive rules laid out by the Ministry of Health,” he said.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Hall announced the results of a meeting held on January 19 that would allow the union to perform the ceremony with the Covid-19 related limitations in place.

Those limitations include the aforementioned social distancing measures and it also stipulated that the FTUWKC must hold the gathering on January 22 from 8:30am to 10:30am at the statue of the late Vichea, which is located to the west of Independence Monument.

After the ceremony is finished all persons present are expected to disperse and refrain from gathering again elsewhere and especially not in front of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court as has occurred in previous years.

The municipal hall further stated that the participants are not allowed to use this forum to attack the King or senior government figures.

The municipal hall also warned the union that it must not incite people to commit acts of violence, engage in divisive political messaging or take any other actions that violate the laws and the Constitution.

It also reminded the union that the 118 outlawed politicians of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party are not allowed to attend Vichea’s ceremony, nor any other similar public events.