Unions to Proceed With Mass Rally in Freedom Park Despite Ban

Unions planning a mass rally at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park on Sunday to call for the release of 23 detainees and a higher minimum wage in the garment industry say they will proceed with the event despite City Hall’s decision Thursday to deny permission.

The nine unions, some of them representing the country’s 600,000 garment workers, want a higher minimum wage for the industry and the release of 23 men arrested earlier this month while protesting outside Phnom Penh factories.

The unions had asked the city for permission to stage a rally of 10,000 people despite a ban on public protests the Interior Ministry imposed in Phnom Penh on January 4.

After having their request denied at a meeting with City Hall officials Thursday morning, the unions said they would go ahead with the rally regardless.

“We will still hold the rally because we implement our rights and follow the demonstration law,” said Sam Mora, president of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation.

The government has allowed some demonstrations to go ahead unhindered since the ban, but has clamped down violently on others and temporarily detained 11 peaceful protesters in the past week.

“Regarding the demonstration on 26 January 2014 from 7:00 am to 5:00 pm at Freedom Park, City Hall does not allow it,” the municipality said in a letter signed by deputy governor Khuong Sreng.

“Since the demonstrations by the CNRP caused chaos in society, resulting in the death and injury of a number of people, the city informed the public and civil society to suspend rallies in some locations until the situation returns to normal.”

Five garment factory protesters were shot dead and more than 40 wounded by heavily armed military police officers on January 3 in Phnom Penh when military and police units were used to squash nationwide demonstrations for higher wages.

Despite rejecting the unions’ request, the letter says that City Hall would now refer the matter to the Interior Ministry for a second opinion.

Should the ministry approve a demonstration, the letter adds, the unions must not verbally “attack the King, the government, neighboring countries or high dignitaries.” It says the unions will also have to tell rally-goers “not to use inciting words and curses against authorities.”

Heng Samorn, secretary-general of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, said the Interior Ministry’s rejection would not stop Sunday’s demonstration either.

“We will still have it even if both City Hall and the Ministry of Interior do not allow us because we will have a nonviolent demonstration in Freedom Park in accordance with the Cambodian Constitution and the demonstration law,” he said.

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