About 50 police were deployed at the city’s new “Freedom Park” yesterday evening to block the screening of a controversial film exploring the shooting of a trade unionist.
Rong Chhun, the head of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, requested permission to screen the film at 5:30pm, but the plan was stymied by the strong police presence.
Before the planned screening, Daun Penh district officials gave Rong Chhun a letter from Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema, claiming the film could not be shown because it was illegal.
“Phnom Penh municipal hall has told you that the screening of the film Who Killed Chea Vichea? can not be possible to show unless there is permission from the relevant ministries,” the letter read. “For this case, Phnom Penh municipal hall does not provide permission.”
Who Killed Chea Vichea?, a 2009 film directed by American Bradley Cox, explores the gunning down of former Free Trade Union leader Chea Vichea outside Wat Lanka in 2004.
Though two men were arrested in connection with Chea Vichea’s killing, they were released in 2009 and rights activists have been urging the government to track down those actually responsible.
Previous attempts to screen the film in Cambodia have also been broken up by the authorities, who claim it was produced without the proper authorisation and has not yet been approved by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.
After the screening was halted yesterday, Rong Chhun said that if the government does not allow people free expression at the new “Freedom Park”, it would be better to turn the paved area into a “grass field”.
He said the new park, which the authorities lauded as a zone where rallies could be held freely, was merely a way of “deceiving” international opinion.
“I think that if the government or municipality created the park and now won’t allow the people to use it, they must eliminate it and plant flowers,” he said. Rong Chhun said he would instead screen the film at his office today at 9:30am.
Chea Mony, Chea Vichea’s brother and the current head of the FTU, blasted the government for not permitting the screening, saying that the defensive response to the film showed the authorities had something to hide.
He said he was preparing to produce US$10,000 worth of DVD copies of the film that would be distributed to the people. “Chea Mony is not afraid of anyone – he doesn’t fear prison, he doesn’t fear dying,” he said.
Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator for rights group Licadho, said the government should allow the film to be screened at the Freedom Park in order to remind the authorities that Chea Vichea’s real killers are still at large.
Daun Penh District Deputy Governor Sok Penh Vuth, who delivered the letter of prohibition to Rong Chhun, declined to comment yesterday.