Tag Archives: Chea Vichea

Who Killed Chea Vichea?

Chea Vichea's daughter was only a toddler when he was assassinated in 2004.

Chea Vichea's daughter was only a toddler when he was assassinated in 2004. (Photo from the film WHO KILLED CHEA VICHEA? © 2010 Loud Mouth Films)

Chea Vichea not only led the workers’ movement of Cambodia, he challenged all those in politics in a country that came out of genocide and continues to be governed by one strong man. Chea Vichea accepted nothing less for the workers than their fundamental rights for respect and their right for dignity.

This year will mark the 8th year of Chea Vichea’s assassination and yet the killers are still free. Cambodians officially may not know the real killers but we have a very clear idea who gave the order.

The real killers will be found the day Cambodia is governed with rule of law.

Remembering 22 January, 2004 keeps the hope for us that justice is real and not just right but an absolute element of freedom.

The Chea Vichea Fund for Workers’ Rights

Chea Mony 012 941 308
Roung Choun: 012 930 706

SRP to distribute Vichea film

LAWMAKERS from the Sam Rainsy Party plan to distribute copies of a controversial documentary about the murder of labour leader Chea Vichea, the Khmer-language version of which premiered yesterday at SRP headquarters in Phnom Penh.

SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said at the screening, which drew a crowd of more than 100 people yesterday, that the party would distribute copies of the film to “whoever wants it” for a token 500 riel (US$0.12).

“We will make thousands of copies, people are asking me for copies… and we will make them because the people have to come out of this level of fear,” Mu Sochua said.

The 2009 documentary Who Killed Chea Vichea?, by American director Bradley Cox, investigates the 2004 murder of former Free Trade Union leader Chea Vichea. It examines charges against two men initially accused of the crime and suggests that government officials may have helped to plan the murder.

Previous attempts to show  the film publicly have been thwarted, with screens torn down after government officials labelled the film an “illegal import”.

Mu Sochua said the government had not interfered with yesterday’s screening because the SRP headquarters is private property.

“I think [the government] calculated very clearly that it would not be to their advantage to stop it,” she said.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan declined to comment on the film screening.

SRP president Sam Rainsy spoke at the event via videoconference from Paris, saying that government officials and factory owners wanted workers to “forget” yesterday’s holiday, International Labour Day.

Read more on the Phnom Penh Post.

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Successful Screening of Who Killed Chea Vichea?

The Khmer version of Who Killed Chea Vichea? was screened for the first time in Cambodia on Labor Day, May 1, 2011.

It was the first time ever this documentary film was shown in full, without disruption, without threat from the government. It was shown at the headquarters of the Sam Rainsy Party. Chea Vichea was a founder of the party and led many strikes with Mr. Sam Rainsy, the president of the party.

Workers came on their own, students rode their bikes and cut classes, moto taxi drivers and party supporters joined the audience. It was widely attended by local and international media in Cambodia.

The Cambodian version is very powerful as there are moments and situations that are best understood in Cambodian language.

There were tears, shock and anger.
Tears as we miss Chea Vichea.
Shock as he was lying in a pool of blood.
Anger as we know the truth but no action has been taken.

The power of the film will make it impossible for the public to see it in a public space, unless there is a change of leadership in Cambodia.

The truth must be told. We will continue to tell it through this very powerful film. We urge you all to take the film to each and every group you know. For justice.

Mu Sochua, MP

Visit the documentary’s blog here.

Screening of Who Killed Chea Vichea?

A fourth attempt to show Who Killed Chea Vichea? in Phnom Penh has been announced for Sunday May 1, which is International Labor Day. According to the organizers this screening is free and open to the public. If the authorities do not intervene, this will be the first complete screening for the public in Phnom Penh.

The first attempt was one year earlier, on May 1, 2010 near the location where Vichea was killed. It was disrupted by riot police. The second was at “Freedom Park” on November 17 and was similarly broken up by police. The third was on March 8 at the New World restaurant; it ended after 25 minutes when power was cut. (See articles on  the   Phnom Penh Post and  Voice of America)

This screening is also taking place on the same day that television broadcasts of Who Killed Chea Vichea? begin in the USA. So far hundreds of broadcasts have been scheduled for May and June. More than 65 million people in the US will be able to see the film. Who Killed Chea Vichea? has also been shown at more than 20 film festivals around the world, at several prestigious universities in the US and at the National Press Club in Washington DC.

We believe that people in Cambodia have the same rights as people in the US and everywhere else. Cambodia has a Constitution and has signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and these documents affirm the right of people to gather and to receive information through any media. We urge the local and national authorities in Cambodia to respect these rights and to allow the screening to go forward peacefully, with no interference.

 Sunday May 1 2011
 SRP headquarters, 71 Sothearos Blvd
 Phnom Penh

 If you attend this screening, please tell us about your experience either on our facebook page or on our blog .

Best regards,

 Rich Garella
 for Loud Mouth Films
 Producer of Who Killed Chea Vichea?

Who Killed Chea Vichea? -Special Jury Prize Winner!


Who Killed Chea Vichea? has made enormous progress since our last update.

The film is complete, and we’re producing versions for distribution all over the world. It has been shown in a dozen countries, and translated into French, Spanish and Polish (as Who Killed the Lech Walesa of Phnom Penh?).

FIFDHWho Killed Chea Vichea? has also won prizes at festivals from the San Francisco Bay to the banks of the Seine. On Tuesday it won the Special Jury Prize for Investigation and Reporting at the International Human Rights Film Festival of Paris. (Many thanks to advisory board member Eric Pape for representing us there, and to François Gerles for translation.)

In May, Who Killed Chea Vichea? will be broadcast to millions of viewers on public television stations across the U.S. Leading up to our broadcast, we’re having US screenings from coast to coast. We’ve signed with a distributor to get the film broadcast in other countries. And starting in May, after the first U.S. broadcast, we’ll finally be able to send out DVDs! More on that below.

Meanwhile, in Cambodia, the authorities continue to prevent screenings. Last week the plug was pulled on a screening at a large restaurant with 200-300 garment workers after 25 minutes. According to an employee, the order came from local authorities. Two previous screenings have been broken up by riot police. Clearly we’ve struck a nerve. But our plan to make sure that people in Cambodia can see the film is going forward.

Even outside Cambodia, many of you have still not had a chance to see the film. We’re doing our best to bring it to you wherever you are. Producing the DVD and versions of the film for festivals, screenings and distribution takes money, but we can do it if we work together.

So we’re offering you the chance to be first in line for the DVD and to help us when we need it most by ordering your copy in advance. As soon as it’s ready (we’re trying for May), we’ll send you your copy, anywhere in the world. We’ve made ordering super easy.

If you’re planning to buy a DVD,
this is the time to place your order!

As always, your support is essential to the success of Who Killed Chea Vichea?, so please order now. Thank you for all you’ve done.

Brad, Rich and Jeffrey
Loud Mouth Films

News: http://blog.whokilledcheavichea.com/search/label/news
Screenings: http://blog.whokilledcheavichea.com/search/label/screenings
Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=76083065273

Please forward this email to anyone you think may be interested.

Assassination of a Union Leader

  • Published: 1/09/2010 in The Bangkok Post.
  • Photos: Bangkok Post

Chea Vichea was the leader of the Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, seeking higher wages and improved conditions for garment workers. Frequently harassed, at times beaten, he worked on despite death threats and the attempted intimidation. On January 22, 2004 he was shot in the head and chest in the morning while reading a newspaper by two men driving by on a motorcycle.

Union Leader Chea Vichea

A few days after Vichea’s assassination, Cambodian police arrested two men and charged them with the murder. Born Samnang initially admitted to the killing but then publicly retracted, claiming to have been tortured into confessing. Witnesses placed Born Samnang in a different part of the country at the time of the murder. The second suspect, Sok Sam Oeun, denied any involvement and had alibis placing him with friends at the time.

The criminal investigation was done by Phnom Penh’s Tuol Kork district police and plagued by irregularities. Officers focused on threatening and rounding up those who provided alibis for the suspects, while witnesses were intimidated. Eventually on December 31, 2008, supreme court judge Dith Monty dismissed the conviction, and the two were provisionally released.

Who Killed Chea Vichea?, which captures the story as it unfolds, recently screened at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand. Director Bradley Cox, who had interviewed Chea Vichea about his labour union activism, was on the scene moments after the murder, and followed the subsequent trial and conducted his own investigation. Jim Pollard, FCCT board member, called it one of the best documentaries ever made on Cambodia. Public screenings of the film have been banned in Cambodia.

Cambodian union leader Chea Vichea in 2003

Cox previously made the documentary Cambodia: Anatomy of an Election, was a co-founder of Bhutan’s first film school, has worked as a screenwriter and director in Los Angeles and has won numerous film festival awards. While filming the army crackdown on the red-shirt protests on May 19, Cox was shot in the leg at the same time that Italian photographer Fabio Polenghi was shot and killed. He took video of Polenghi as he was being carried away. We talked with Bradley Cox about Chea Vichea, reaction to the film and broader problems in Cambodia.
Is ‘Who Killed Chea Vichea?’ about the assassination of one individual or as much about broader issues in Cambodia? The movie is primarily an investigation into the murder of Chea Vichea and about the two men convicted for the crime. But I use the case to highlight a much bigger problem, that of the unchecked corruption and impunity that continues to plague Cambodia. Although there are plenty of movies about Cambodia, almost all of them focus on the past and the Khmer Rouge era. This film focuses on the present, Cambodia as it is now.
You knew Chea Vichea before his death. What was he like as an individual? I think the term “hero” is one of the most overused words in the English language but Chea Vichea was the real deal. He had a dangerous job and was beaten, arrested and threatened many times. Yet he refused to be intimidated and continued his work despite the risks. And in the end, he was killed for it.
The extraordinary aspect of the film is that it follows developments before and after the murder; viewers can watch the events unfold. But what brought you to Cambodia initially? I first met Vichea when he received a death threat just before the 2003 national election. According to police, it came from a high-ranking official in the government and they were powerless to intervene. My videotaped interview with Vichea was his last. Six months later to the day, he was assassinated. I arrived at the murder scene only minutes after it happened and followed the case closely, filming the funeral, the arrests of the two men and their conviction in court. I also conducted my own investigation into the case, something the police never bothered to do. The results, as seen in the movie, show quite clearly the two men are innocent.

What reasons did the Cambodian government give for banning the film? The government has given a litany of reasons, or should I say excuses, for not allowing the movie to be shown in Cambodia. Among them, it was not approved by the Ministry of Culture. It was also called an “illegal import” and, according to the Ministry of Interior, it was an incitement of the public. In addition, the Press and Quick Response Unit vowed to stop any future screenings wherever they are held. I should add that no government official has yet seen the movie. The real message here is that the authorities will censure anyone and any film that criticises the government.

In the media there seems to have been as many stories about the banning of your film as about the film itself. Did the government’s stance backfire in giving it more publicity? Prime Minister Hun Sen does not respond well to criticism. In the past, UN peace envoys who publicly decried Cambodia’s human rights abuses have been told they are no longer welcome in the kingdom. NGOs have been threatened with expulsion. More recently, journalists are threatened, arrested and jailed for articles critical of the government. The Minister of Information Khieu Kanarith was quoted as saying, “It might have been that the documentary intends to accuse the government of murder.” It may be one of the few true statements he’s ever made.

Have some of Chea Vichea’s union goals, like raising the minimum wage of garment factory workers, since been achieved? Although there have been small increases in salaries over the last few years, they have been outstripped by cost of living increases. Discontent among workers has been increasing and there are now plans afoot to mount big strikes sometime in the next month.

Has anyone else stepped into the void left by his murder – or was it successful in creating fear among potential activists? Fear has always been present among labour organisations in Cambodia trying to increase wages or improve working conditions. But the bar was raised substantially when Vichea was killed. In fact, two other organisers from Vichea’s union were killed subsequently to him. And all were done in the same way, by two men on a motorcycle. Many organisers are harassed, threatened and fired by their employers. This is a direct violation of the law but the law seldom matters when dealing with the police and the courts. What matters is who has the money and power. The workers have neither so it is always an uphill battle.

Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, initially arrested for and convicted of Chea’s murder, have been released from prison, and rights groups have said they were framed. Do you think those responsible for his murder will ever be held to account? Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun have been released but only provisionally. In other words, if the court decided, they could be sent back to prison. So although I’m happy that they are free, the case continues to hang over their heads. They deserve to have the charges officially dropped, but it could be months or years before this happens. Why? Because this case has been an embarrassment to the Cambodian government since the beginning. The police frame-up of the two men was inept and the trial was a mockery of justice. I think the last thing the government wants is more headlines on this case. For this reason, I doubt there will be any more arrests or, for that matter, any real investigation.

Cambodia relies a lot on foreign aid and investment. Are these improving the country, or will corruption and mismanagement continue to hinder development? International donors gave $1.1 billion [34.4 billion baht] in aid to Cambodia this past year. According to Carol Rodley, the US ambassador to Cambodia, the country loses about $500 million a year to corruption. That’s a quarter of the national budget. One has to wonder who’s getting all that money. Top government officials give speeches about cracking down on corruption, but that’s for the benefit of donor countries with deep pockets. The truth is that the government is a kleptocracy and no one wants to kill the golden goose. For things to improve, there needs to political will, and there is none.
Are you working on other projects at the moment? I am finishing work on the DVD of Who Killed Chea Vichea?, which can be purchased through the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand.

Bradley Cox, director of ‘Who Killed Chea Vichea?’