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Banned film an internet hit

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People take part in a remembrance ceremony for Chea Vichea on the anniversary of his murder in January of 2010.

The Khmer-language version of American filmmaker Bradley Cox’s documentary about slain union leader Chea Vichea is now available on the internet, and this will likely remain the best way to view the film in Cambodia, where the English-language version is banned, its director said yesterday.

The Khmer-language version of Who Killed Chea Vichea? received more than 9,000 views on two internet sites – YouTube and Vimeo – since it was posted on them five days ago.

The documentary examines the 2004 slaying of the union leader and subsequent police investigation that led to the conviction of two men widely believed to be innocent. It was filmed in Cambodia from 2003 to 2009 and released in English last year.

Authorities have banned the English-language version and shut down three attempted screenings of the film in 2010, including one in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, according to union activists.

“I’m not going to try to have the ban lifted in Cambodia,” Cox said by email yesterday.

“Freedom of expression is protected under the Cambodian constitution, regardless of what the police and government officials might say.”

Interior ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said yesterday that the documentary was banned here because it was filmed in Cambodia without the approval of the Ministry of Culture or the Ministry of Information. “I do not know what the consequences would be if the film is shown here,” he said.

Chea Vichea’s brother, Chea Mony, current president of the Free Trade Union yesterday welcomed the Khmer-language version of the film. “National lovers posted this video to other websites after the authorities stopped me when I attempted to show in public,” Chea Mony said. “But right now this video is posted to the internet and Khmer translation also. I think it is an important video.”

“When the authority stopped the showing, it was a serious fault,” he said. “[It was] opposite of the Cambodian constitution. It is a freedom for Cambodians to know and read.”

Chea Mony and Cox both stressed Chea Vichea’s continued popularity with Cambodian workers. “They love him,” said his brother. “He was a good leader for workers.”

Capturing the story of Chea Vichea on film ensures that what he fought for is saved for posterity, Cox said. “It’s a very sad story, not just because of Vichea’s death, but also because of the effects it had on Vichea’s family, the two men who were falsely arrested and spent five years in prison, their families, the judge Heng Thirith who tried to do the right thing and was banished to Stung Treng, and the union movement as a whole, which lost its greatest advocate,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEN DAVID

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