Police stop Labour Day showing of documentary on slain unionist Chea Vichea
POLICE and municipal officials stepped in to ban a screening of a documentary about slain labour leader Chea Vichea on Saturday, forcibly removing projector screens set up by organisers outside Wat Lanka in central Phnom Penh.
Several dozen police officers arrived at around 5pm at the Chamkarmon district site – just metres from where Chea Vichea was shot and killed in 2004 – to meet representatives of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU), members of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and others who had gathered for the screening. On two occasions, organisers attempted to raise projector screens before police pulled them down and confiscated them after brief struggles.
Amid a crush of journalists and onlookers, Chamkarmon deputy governor Chor Kimsor told CCU president Rong Chhun that the event could not go forward without permission from municipal authorities.
“If you have permission to show the film, I would allow the film to be shown. If you are barehanded, I will not allow,” Chor Kimsor said. “If you respect law enforcement and democracy, you must consider the law above all else.”
Rong Chhun met with officials at City Hall on Thursday in an attempt to secure permission for the screening. The municipality’s deputy chief of cabinet, Koeut Chhe, told him he could not show the film without securing the approval of “relevant” government ministries.
The CCU president said following the meeting, however, that he did not have time to consult with officials at the ministerial level prior to the scheduled screening, organised to mark the Kingdom’s Labour Day holiday.
Rong Chhun told reporters on Saturday that with the murder of Chea Vichea still unresolved, it was the government – not the CCU – that had demonstrated a lack of respect for the rule of law.
“We have seen murders continuously, but we have not seen the real killers arrested and punished. That’s why we wanted to do this on May 1, at the spot where Chea Vichea was shot and killed,” Rong Chhun said. He condemned the decision to break up the event.
“We regret and condemn the authorities’ action. If the authorities acted like this, it means that some officials could have been involved in Chea Vichea’s murder.”
The film that was scheduled to be shown was Who Killed Chea Vichea?, a documentary directed by American Bradley Cox that investigates the union leader’s killing and the controversial prosecution of two men accused of the crime.
Those two men – Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun – were found guilty of Chea Vichea’s murder in 2005 and sentenced to 20 years in prison. They are widely believed to have been framed, however, and the Supreme Court ordered their release from prison last year pending a new trial.
Cox wrote in an email that given the film’s criticisms of Cambodian law enforcement, he was “not surprised” that its screening had not been approved.
“I would encourage Cambodian government officials to practice what they preach,” he said.
“They speak loftily about democracy and freedom of speech when courting foreign nations for millions in economic aid. But when that same government is criticized, they resort to edicts, proclamations and instant arbitrary rulings, the very stuff of dictatorships.”
The confrontation with police came after thousands of workers marched through the streets of the capital on Saturday morning to commemorate the Labour Day holiday. Organisers said around 7,000 people joined a march led by the Cambodian Labour Confederation (CLC), while Rong Chhun and Chea Mony, who succeeded his brother as president of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, led a separate march of around 300 people.
CLC president Ath Thun said that although the marches were organised separately, “the aims are the same”. The CLC delivered a petition to the National Assembly on Saturday, asking parliamentarians to increase the minimum wage for workers in a number of sectors.
The CCU march was briefly obstructed by police before Chea Mony played a tape recording of a speech made last week by Prime Minister Hun Sen in which the premier said he had no objection to legal demonstrations.
Although the CCU’s efforts to screen the Chea Vichea documentary were ultimately thwarted, SRP parliamentarian Mu Sochua said her party planned to host a public screening of the film at its headquarters this week.
Tith Sothea, spokesman for the Press and Quick Reaction Unit at the Council of Ministers, said that if the opposition and civil society organisations really want to help solve the Chea Vichea case, they should cooperate with the government and send a copy of the film to the Ministry of Interior.
“We must not violate the law and blame the government,” he said.