Organisers say they will ignore government orders to first secure permission.
CAMBODIAN Confederation of Unions (CCU) President Rong Chhun says he will hold an outdoor screening of a controversial documentary about slain labour leader Chea Vichea on Saturday’s Labour Day holiday, despite not having received permission from government officials to do so.
Rong Chhun met at City Hall on Thursday for one hour with Koeut Chhe, the Phnom Penh Municipality’s deputy chief of cabinet, who told him that he could not show the film without first securing permission from the “relevant” government ministries such as the Ministry of Interior. The CCU president’s decision to flout the official’s orders could set up a confrontation, though it was unclear on Thursday how the government would respond to Rong Chhun’s decision.
“This country has laws, so if [Rong Chhun] is showing the film publicly, he must ask permission,” Koeut Chhe said following the meeting. “If he violates the law, that’s his business, but he must be responsible for his violations of the law.”
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Thursday that because organisers are planning to show the film outdoors, jurisdiction over their activities falls to City Hall and the Ministry of Interior. Under the Kingdom’s new Demonstration Law, passed last year, government authorities may “take actions to cease” any unauthorised demonstrations or public gatherings.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak on Thursday called the film an “illegal import”. When asked how the government would respond to an unauthorised screening, he said to “wait and see on Saturday”.
Minister of Culture Him Chhem also claimed jurisdiction, saying that his ministry would have to grant permission before a public film screening could go ahead.
“Our Ministry has no problem with the screening. It is [Rong Chhun’s] right, but he must do it legally,” Him Chhem said.
Rong Chhun said Thursday that he planned to go ahead with the screening regardless of the government’s response, claiming he did not have enough time to secure permission from officials at the ministerial level.
“We have already seen politicians murdered, artists murdered, as well as an important union president murdered, and so far the authorities have not found the killers and their backers to be punished,” Rong Chhun said. “At 5:30pm on [Saturday], we are going to do everything according to the plan we submitted to the municipality – we will not withdraw.”
The CCU plans to screen the documentary near Chamkarmon district’s Wat Lanka, where Chea Mony was gunned down in 2004. The film, directed by American Bradley Cox, is currently touring film festivals and is scheduled for wider release in the US later this year.
Drawing from interviews with police, government officials and other public figures, including Chea Vichea himself, Cox’s film offers a portrayal of thuggish law enforcement and a kleptocratic ruling elite under Prime Minister Hun Sen. Although it does not make direct accusations, the film implies that Chea Vichea was killed because of his ties to the opposition, and that the two men convicted of the murder were framed.
Moeun Chhean Narridh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said Rong Chhun should attempt to get government authorisation “for extra precaution”, but should ultimately not be bound by attempts to constrain his freedom of expression.
“It does not cost anything just to ask permission, but if the Ministry of Culture or any other authorities do not give him permission, he should just go ahead and show the film anyway,” Moeun Chhean Narridh said.
Chea Mony, who has replaced his brother as president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, accused municipal officials of attempting to delay the screening and prevent the public from seeing the film.
“It is a pretext,” Chea Mony said. “If the authorities do not allow the screening, it means that they are afraid of learning more about Chea Vichea’s killing.”