Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Sar Thet said that authorities would not allow union leaders to turn Labor Day gatherings into marches on Wednesday, describing the plans as “illegal” despite the Constitution’s explicit safeguards for public protest.
Thet told VOD that workers could hold gatherings but would not be allowed to march to deliver petitions to the National Assembly, as some union leaders had planned.
“Just let their representatives submit the petition, and that’s it,” Thet said.
“Why do they have to march?” he added. “That’s illegal.”
Articles 37 and 41 of Cambodia’s 1993 Constitution state that citizens have the rights to gather, express themselves, strike and demonstrate peacefully.
Thet said that if any union leaders attempted to march, then the authorities would “take action.” However, he did not clarify what actions would be taken.
On April 8, representatives from various unions submitted notifications, as they are required to by law, to Phnom Penh City Hall about their plans to hold various rallies around Phnom Penh on Labor Day, saying that they expected a turnout of 5,000.
Three locations were cited: Wat Phnom, Wat Botum Park and Freedom Park.
Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC) leader Ath Thorn said he still planned to lead a march from near his Wat Phnom gathering to the National Assembly. Yet he said that he would not test the resolve of Thet’s police forces.
“We are ready,” Thorn said. “But if we cannot march, we will not do it.”
Khun Tharo, a coordinator at the Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, said a coalition of 21 local workers groups, associations and unions had submitted notifications to the City Hall to rally at the new Freedom Park but would not march.
He said he feared the same treatment as the banned Cambodia National Rescue Party, which the prime minister has warned to cease public activities, due to the union movement’s long-standing association with the now repressed opposition.
“We do not want to see any confrontations,” Tharo said. “Previously, we — the unions, and the organizations that were working on human rights and the labor sectors — were together with opposition supporters, and that’s why we do not want to have confrontations together, and do not want to smear each other.”
(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)