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Chea Vichea Documentary Wins Peabody Award

  • Men Kimseng
  • VOA Khmer

Chea Vichea's wife holding a picture of her late husband, Chea Vichea, file photo.

Chea Vichea's wife holding a picture of her late husband, Chea Vichea, file photo.

Filmmakers examining the 2004 assassination of labor leader Chea Vichea have won a Peabody award for their work.

“Who Killed Chea Vichea” explores Cambodia’s political and security institutions in an indictment of the police and judiciary, which failed to arrest or convict his true killers. The courts instead convicted two men widely believed innocent of the crime.

Some of the film’s claims “remain somewhat ambiguous,” Horace Newcomb, director of the Peabody Awards, told VOA Khmer. “But in the end [it] was an important piece of work.”

The filmmakers will receive the award May 21 in New York.

“This is really the top award that the film could have won,” said co-producer Rich Garella. “And it speaks not just to the quality of our work, but also the importance of the issue that the film is about.”

“Who Killed Chea Vichea” has been banned in Cambodia, and attempts at private screenings have failed under pressure from authorities.

Chea Vichea, who commanded a major following of workers and unionists, was killed in broad daylight. The investigation and court charges that followed were widely criticized as a demonstration of a police force and judiciary either inept or corrupt.

Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia, which represents factory owners and managers, praised Chea Vichea as “a respected union leader.”

“His assassination was a sad thing for us and for everyone,” he said. “But I think it’s very convenient for everyone to claim that it was politically motivated.”

Since Chea Vichea’s killing, the labor movement has ebbed, while workers who demonstrate in front of their factories still face violent crackdowns by security personnel. Labor leaders can also face court action by management.

“There is change, but not to a democratic one,” said Chea Mony, brother of the slain leader and now the president of the Free Trade Union. “It has turned to fear or democracy in name only, where freedom of speech is none.”

Government spokesman Phay Siphan called the film “politically motivated publicity,” and he said its winning of the Peabody did Cambodia an injustice.

Newcomb, the Peabody director, defended the importance of the film.

“The Peabody Award is not politically motivated,” he said. “It looks for excellence in media production, excellence of many different sorts, excellence on its own terms, and that’s what we found in this documentary.”

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