Cambodian authorities this week gave permission for trade union members to commemorate the 2004 murder of their former president Chea Vichea, forbidding participants to march, however, and warning against the involvement of former opposition party members now banned from political life.
Chea Vichea, an outspoken critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government and president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC), was gunned down on Jan. 22, 2004 by an unknown assailant while he read a newspaper at a stand in Phnom Penh.
Two men were arrested within days of the murder with each handed 20-year jail sentences in a 2005 trial decried by rights groups as unjust.
The men, Sok Sam Oeun and Born Samnang, maintained they had been framed by police, and were finally acquitted in 2013 by Cambodia’s Supreme Court, which ruled they had been wrongfully convicted.
Writing in a Jan. 15 letter to FTUWKC president Touch Seu, Phnom Penh Municipality deputy governor Mean Chanyada denied permission for a requested march by 150 union members to the place where Chea Vichea was killed, allowing a brief ceremony to be held at the site instead.
However, former members of the now-dissolved opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party banned from active political life in Cambodia would not be permitted to take part, and the event itself should not be “politicized,” he said.
“In order for the event to go smoothly, and for reasons of security, City Hall asks the Union to cooperate with the authorities and not allow the 118 individuals who were banned from politics to participate in the event,” he said.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service, FTUWKC vice president Mann Senghak said he would not block former CNRP officials from taking part in the commemoration, calling it a nonpolitical event and adding, “I don’t agree with the ban. These 118 people are Buddhists, and they have a right to pay their respects to Chea Vichea.”
CNRP members had joined in similar commemorations in the past, he said.
Killers still not found
Speaking to RFA from Finland where she has lived since her husband’s murder, Chea Vichea’s wife Chea Kimny called on Cambodia’s government to find and arrest her husband’s real killers.
“There has been no justice for me and my family for the last 15 years until now,” she said. “The government must try to arrest the real killers, but they haven’t been able to arrest any suspects, and I wonder why that is.”
Now grown, Chea Vichea’s daughter Chea Vicheata said that her father’s murder has made her stronger and more motivated to work hard at her studies.
“I want to use the knowledge that I’ve gained here to continue my father’s work to provide justice for the people,” she said.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.