Phnom Penh Municipality has denied two unions permission to hold a Labor Day parade, citing a scheduling conflict and telling the organizations to celebrate the international holiday inside the confines of their offices.
The Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association and the Free Trade Union requested permission to march from the National Assembly to Wat Langka on May 1, in celebration of Labor Day and to call for pay increases for civil servants and a 44-hour work week.
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Map Sarin said that the Cambodian Confederation of Trade Unions, which is affiliated to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP, was already scheduled to hold a gathering in front of the National Assembly.
In a letter rejecting their request, Map Sarin told the two unions that the decision was made “to avoid any confusion.”
He also told the groups that they could parade inside their offices.
Both unions said on Thursday that they would not comply with the municipality rejection and would hold the parade anyway.
“The government is abusing the Constitution,” said FTU President Chea Mony.
CITA President Rong Chhun said the denial showed that the government restricts freedoms of expression and assembly. He also criticized the recent and rosy Cambodian situation assessment by a European Parliament delegation.
“The government’s denial shows that the EU statement was wrong. It is shameful of the EU,” Rong Chhun said.
CCTU President Chhoun Mom Thol, however, accused the two union leaders of exploiting their own members for the benefit of the Sam Rainsy Party.“They don’t deserve to hold protests,” he added.
Cambodian Center for Human Rights President Kem Sokha wrote to the European Commission and the German Embassy, stating that European countries celebrate Labor Day with marches, and sought their support for the same freedom in Cambodia.
“Only two days ago, a delegation of the European Parliament declared that Cambodia ‘is a functioning democracy.’ Therefore, it should be very easy for you to convince the Cambodian Prime Minister to allow the peaceful event,” he wrote.
Winston McColgan, European Commission Charge d’Affairs, said that multiple countries in the EU recognize May 1 as a national holiday, but could not comment further. German Embassy officials could not be reached for comment.
(Additional reporting by Whitney Kvasager)