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Film Indicts Police Work in Chea Vichea Killing

The word impunity is used so frequently in Phnom Penh that it has lost a lot of its meaning. But a new film examining the murder of union leader Chea Vichea aims to infuse the word with meaning, and emotion, once again.

Near the beginning of the film, "The Plastic Killers," just-arrested Born Samnang and Sok Samoeun shout out their innocence.

"I don't know anything about this," cries Sok Samoeun to a room full of journalists. "I will not betray myself."

"They are high ranking officials," says Born Samnang. "They can do anything they want. They can turn white to black."

"They've done bad things to me," Sok Samoeun continues. "I was nowhere near Wat Lanka that day. If I did [it], let the earth swallow me."

The two were arrested just days after for the killing of union leader Chea Vichea, a charismatic activist who could organize large demonstrations in the interest of Cambodia's oft-abused laborers. He was shot dead on a Thursday morning in 2004 at a market near Lanka pagoda.

In later scenes, the two men appear calmer. But "The Plastic Killers" spends much time echoing these cries of innocence.

American documentarian Bradley Cox told VOA Khmer from Bangkok recently he made "The Plastic Killers" to show the world what most people in Cambodia already know.

"Everyone in the country believes that these two guys—Born Samnang and Sok Samoeun—didn't kill Chea Vichea, and the only person who maybe does believe it in the entire country is Judge Kong Seth, who convicted the two guys," he said.

Both men had 20-year prison sentences upheld in a court hearing in April, in what rights groups called a travesty of justice.

Kong Seth has maintained the ruling was just.

Now, authorities say they want to ban the film in Cambodia.

Some copies of "The Plastic Killers" have been confiscated, Khim Sarith, secretary of state for the Ministry of Culture, told VOA Khmer, because it was not approved for distribution.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the film should be censured for its graphic nature.

It shows footage of Chea Vichea moments after his murder, shot through the chest, bleeding on the sidewalk, surrounded by uniformed and plainclothes police.

Cox said he wasn't surprised the authorities want to ban "The Plastic Killers."

The film points to something larger and more sinister in Cambodia: the ability of the police to rig a case and the inability of the courts to withstand them.

"It says pretty clearly that the police framed these two guys," he said. "I present their alibis in the movie, which seem quite clear, and to any normal person would show beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were not involved in the killing… And yet the police lied to the media and they fabricated evidence and they found witnesses to make a consistent story which allowed them to be convicted."

The film is an indictment of Cambodia's judiciary at a time when the country is trying to start trials for former Khmer Rouge leaders.

It is an indictment too of donor countries that choose to believe Cambodia is a democracy, Cox said.

"If you look at the way things work day today in Cambodia, it's much closer to a dictatorship," he said. "It's not a democracy. And the courts are controlled by the government and the police."

Cox said he hoped the film would demonstrate Cambodia's absence of justice to people who have not lived there.

"They watch this thing and are horrified," he said. "They're not used to seeing this kind of impunity. I think that's shocking to people outside the country; for the people inside the country, this is an everyday thing, this surprises nobody."