Friday, January 22, 2010 / ASSOCIATED PRESS / Uploaded 2016

“Cambodians who speak out to defend their homes, their jobs, and their rights face threats, jail, and physical attacks” – Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch Asia Division Director

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Cambodia’s largest labour union warned Friday that it would launch a nationwide strike unless authorities arrest those responsible for the killing of their prominent leader six-years ago.

Chea Vichea, 36, founder and president of Free Trade Union of Workers, was fatally shot in front of a newsstand in the capital Phnom Penh on Jan. 22, 2004. He was known for his outspoken efforts to organize garment workers and improve working conditions in Cambodia.

Two men were convicted in the deaths and sentenced to 20-year prison terms, but many people believed they were framed for the crime and the country’s Supreme Court has ordered a retrial.

Chea Mony, the slain leader’s brother and current leader of the union, marked the sixth anniversary of the killing by leading a march of nearly 100 workers and a dozen opposition legislators to the spot where the shooting took place. The march was held under heavy security but was peaceful and no one was arrested.

“Today, I wish to send a message to the government that it is time to arrest the real murderers,” Chea Mony said. “If the government continues to ignore our appeals, then we will hold a one-week, nationwide strike,” he said, adding it would come some time this year.

In December 2008, Cambodia’s highest court provisionally released the two men convicted in the Chea Vichea killing – Born Samnang, 24, and Sok Sam Oeun, 36 – and ordered further investigation in preparation for their retrial.

The court did not give a reason, but the decision came after widespread protests over the convictions.

The Cambodian government, meanwhile, denounced a critical report by Human Rights Watch released this week.

The New York-based rights group said in its annual World Report that “the government misused the judiciary to silence government critics, attacked human rights defenders, tightened restrictions on press freedom, and abandoned its international obligations to protect refugees.”

“Cambodians who speak out to defend their homes, their jobs, and their rights face threats, jail, and physical attacks,” said Brad Adams, director of its Asia division.

Responding to the report, Cabinet spokesman Phay Siphan said Friday that Cambodia’s human rights situation is improving every year thanks to government efforts. “That report sings the same old song and is not a truly scientific report,” he said.