The public screening Friday of a banned documentary film that implicates the government in the 2004 assassination of prominent union leader Chea Vichea has had to change venues because the man renting out the original location, Meta House director Nicolaus Mesterharm, would not allow the viewing.
The tussle over the showing of the award-winning and critically acclaimed documentary comes amid a threat by a government spokesman on Thursday that any attempt to screen the film will be met with the summary deportation of foreign nationals involved, and the imprisonment of Cambodians.
“If you defy the ban, we kick you out,” Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said.
“If you are Cambodian, we throw you in jail,” he said.
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) had planned to show the film, “Who Killed Chea Vichea?” at the offices of Sithi Hub, a meeting space for bloggers and activists.
Sithi Hub is located in a villa that previously housed Meta House, an arts and media center that focuses on film screenings and was established by German filmmaker Mr. Mesterharm—who sublets the building to Sithi Hub.
When Mr. Mesterharm found out about the planned screening of the Chea Vichea film, he refused to allow it proceed, said Ramana Sorn, project coordinator for CCHR’s Freedom of Expression Project.
“We changed the location because we had some problem with the location at Sithi Hub,” she said.
Ms. Sorn said the “problem” with the screening was Mr. Mesterharm.
“[The rental contract] should have been clear before renting the house…. Our contract only says that we can use the space for Sithi Hub,” not for public screenings, Ms. Sorn said.
Mr. Mesterharm told CCHR that they could not screen the film at Sithi Hub in an email on Wednesday.
“I hereby like to inform you that this [screening] won’t be possible because of an existing ban” on the film by the government, Mr. Mesterharm wrote.
Mr. Mesterharm defended his decision saying that he had not banned the film, the government had.
“It is forbidden because the movie is forbidden,” he said. “I have only made him [the film’s producer, Rich Garella] aware that it is forbidden.”
The film is now scheduled to be screed today at CCHR’s headquarters in Chamkar Mon district at 5 p.m. in Khmer and again at 7 p.m. in English.
Bradley Cox, who directed the film, said the government had used many excuses to prevent the screening of his investigation into the assassination of Chea Vichea, who was killed 10 years ago Thursday.
“The government has given us excuses in the past, for example that we had no proper permit or no import license…. There was a myriad of reasons why it can’t be shown but that seems to only apply to our movie and not any others,” he said from Bangkok.
Mr. Siphan confirmed that the documentary, released in 2007, was still banned.
He said the government was concerned that the film, widely available on YouTube, would influence public opinion.