Government’s various reasons for blocking screenings have observers puzzled
AN attempt to show a controversial documentary exploring the death of union leader Chea Vichea was quickly quashed last week, but some observers are questioning the multitude of reasons authorities have offered for banning public screenings of the film.
Various government departments weighed in when organisers announced plans to show Who Killed Chea Vichea? near the site where the influential union leader was gunned down in 2004.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith initially said the government would have no “political objections” to the screening.
But Phnom Penh officials then demanded that organisers obtain approval from “relevant ministries” that was never granted.
An Interior Ministry spokesman said the foreign-produced film had been “illegally imported”. And the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts stated that it must approve all films screened in Cambodia.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said the Culture Ministry does have the power to act as a national film-review board, but that using this as a pretense for blocking screenings of the Chea Vichea film was “pretty bogus”.
“The only legitimate question to me is the public showing of the film. And that to me is a freedom of expression issue,” he said.
“The government knows full well that the screening of the film is mainly a protest against the government’s handling of the Chea Vichea case.
There are no legality issues here.”
Other organisations regularly screen films in public without asking the Ministry of Culture for permission, he said.
Nevertheless, an official with the ministry said Thursday that authorities plan to reject all requests to stage public screenings of the film.
“The movie does not have the proper legalities,” said Kong Kantara, an undersecretary of state. “If it is for public screening. It must have permission from the ministry.”
He added that any foreign film (Who Killed Chea Vichea? is American-produced) must be imported by a Cambodian company holding the rights to bring in films from abroad.
“This film does not have enough conditions that it could be allowed,” Kong Kantara said.
Chea Vichea’s family as well as rights groups have long believed that the two men convicted in the 2004 murder are innocent.
The slain unionist’s brother, Chea Mony, has said that the government was involved in the death.
Bradley Cox, who directed Who Killed Chea Vichea?, said he was sceptical of the government’s motives for stopping the film from being shown.
“It is interesting that the reasons given to block the screening keep shifting,” he wrote in an email. “It seems to me the Ministry of Culture is just a government device to censure any material that is critical of the ruling elite.”
In the meantime, opposition parliamentarians are pledging to show the film on an unspecified date, despite the government’s warnings.
“If the government prevents our screening, it means that the government does not dare face reality,” said Sam Rainsy Party spokesman Yim Sovann. “What is the government’s relation to this murder?”
Tith Sothea, spokesman for the Press and Quick Reaction Unit at the Council of Ministers, said the film’s backers are being disingenuous in their reasons for showing it publicly.
“The screening is just for political profit,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY IRWIN LOY