By Lauren Crothers
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia
Cambodian police prevented Sunday Buddhist monks, unionists, garment workers and human rights activists from gathering on the street where five people were shot dead by security forces during a labor strike two years ago.
The industrial action in January 2014 was called by unions in response to the setting of a $100 minimum wage, which workers said was not enough to live on every month.
On Jan. 3 of that year, four people were shot dead as government forces cracked down on stone-throwing protesters.
A fifth person -- 16-year-old Khem Sophath -- was last seen bleeding heavily from a gunshot wound and his body has never been found.
Moeun Tola, executive director of the newly formed Center for Alliance of Labor and Human Rights, told Anadolu Agency on Sunday that by the time the groups arrived on Veng Sreng boulevard, "the security forces were deployed".
He said there were around 300 police -- a number matched by those seeking to commemorate the deaths -- from Pur Senchey district, who pushed the gatherers toward a phalanx of police from neighboring Sen Sok district.
"It is so ridiculous, because the original plan was not to march, but to gather. We invited monks to do chanting and pray for the spirits of those who died on the 3rd of January, 2014," Tola said.
He added that around 200 workers from the nearby Canadia Industrial Park sought to join the gathering, but were blocked, meaning they could not join with the other 100 activists and monks.
Video footage taken Sunday morning and shared on social media shows the gatherers being pushed and moved along by a wall of police.
Attempts to light a few sticks of incense were also thwarted, Tola said, when police officers doused them with water.
There have been a number of calls for a credible, transparent and thorough investigation into the killings and Khem Sophath’s disappearance, but these pleas have yielded no satisfactory response from the authorities.
Tola said the event has effectively been blotted out by a government that has failed to hold the perpetrators accountable.
"[W]e have video footage and photos, which should be enough evidence that those people shot other people dead," he told Anadolu Agency. "And the government, until now… there is no perpetrator or shooters convicted. When the families of the victims want to commemorate them, they block them."
He said his organization had not sought the approval of City Hall for the gathering, because it was only to be a simple memorial with prayers and incense -- the kind of gathering held routinely around the country, and for which permission need not be granted.
He said City Hall issued a letter Saturday evening, ordering police forces to prevent any kind of gathering from happening.
City Hall spokesperson Long Dimanche did not return a request for comment by press time and National Police spokesperson Kirth Chantharith could not be reached.