PHNOM PENH —
Activists did not march to commemorate the third anniversary of a deadly crackdown on striking garment workers this year, fearing a violent response from the authorities.
Vorn Pao, president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy (IDEA) association, said the decision was made not to hold a public commemoration event because they feared a repeat of previous crackdowns on the event.
“In 2016, we saw that freedom of assembly was totally restricted, forcing us to hold this ceremony at our offices this year,” he said.
Last year Pao led a parade to commemorate the strike, which left at least five dead after security forces opened fire on garment workers, but the event was shut down by the authorities.
A day after the parade was shut down Prime Minister Hun Sen warned that legal proceedings against Pao could be initiated as a result.
Pao was among 23 workers and activists who were detained in 2014 on charges of violence, damaging public property and harming social order and security.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager at local rights group Licadho, said that there were no signs a supposed investigation into the killings and beatings had produced any results.
Activists and workers say they will never forget the mistreatment at the hands of the security forces, such as the Special Forces Division 911 on January 2.
“January 2 is a historical day for me and many other activists. It’s a history of suffering,” Pao said. “We … were hurt by paratroopers of Division 911, whose role is to defend the people and the country. [They] didn’t defend the country, instead they grabbed clubs and slingshots and weapons to beat us.”
“On that day they clearly intended to kill me,” he added.
Theng Savoeun, secretary general of the Coalition of Cambodia Farmer Community Association (CCFCA), urged the government to stop resorting to violence to solve problems.
“The government should come up with options for negotiation and seek to solve problems more peacefully,” he said.
Chap Pheakdey, commander of Division 911, declined to comment, while general Khieu Sopheak, Interior Ministry spokesman, could not be reached.