Cambodia represses truth about union leader’s murder
Earlier this year, police in Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, prevented the screening of a documentary about the murder of trade union leader Chea Vichea. The charismatic Vichea, (left) who campaigned for better wages and conditions for Cambodia’s 300,000 garment workers, was assassinated in 2004 next to a newspaper kiosk. Amid an international outcry, two men, widely believed to have played no role in his death, were charged with his killing. They have since been freed on bail.
American journalist Bradley Cox, who was living in Phnom Penh at the time and who had previously met the union leader, rushed to the scene of the murder. He launched his own investigation into the killing and came to the conclusion that it could not have been carried out without the knowledge of the “highest levels” of the political establishment. It was perhaps no surprise then, that the government of Hun Sen did not want ordinary Cambodian citizens watching Mr Cox’s film, Who Killed Chea Vichea?
Ironically enough, at about the same time that the Cambodian authorities were banning Mr Cox’s film, they were also establishing a Freedom Park in the centre of the capital and making it the designated place for political protests. The move was widely seen as being carried out to counter critics of its authoritarian policies.
Anyway, I got word over the weekend that members of the Free Trade Union and the Teachers Union of Cambodia again tried to screen the documentary, this time in Freedom Park, only to be again bundled away by police. Mr Cox said in an email: “As you may know, Freedom Park is now the designated location where all demonstrations must be held. The Cambodian government would like the international community to believe this shows their growing commitment to freedom of expression.”
He added: “In reality, it does just the opposite, isolating demonstrations in a remote area of the city and limiting them to 200 people (even though the park can hold more than a thousand.) As the union leaders entered Freedom Park, they were met by fifty to a hundred police carrying batons and shields who prohibited them from screening the movie. So much for freedom of speech.”
The people of Cambodia are working hard to rebuild their country after decades of war and violence. Several million foreign visitors travel to see sites such as the remarkable Angkor Wat. Yet for the veneer of openness (and despite the stalwart efforts of publications such as the Phnom Penh Post which wrote about the latest crack-down on Mr Cox’s film), the government seeks to keep tight control on those who seek to question its actions and behaviour. This is just another example.
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