By Mong Palatino
Cambodia, May 2, 2016
The Cambodian government has stopped the public screening of a documentary about the life and struggle of Chut Wutty, an environmentalist who was killed in 2012 while exposing the activities of an illegal logging plantation.
The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts said the screening of the film “I am Chut Wutty” does not have a permit from authorities.
The producers of the film made the announcement on Facebook:
Our screening this week at Meta House has been cancelled by order of Mr. Sin Chan Saya, Department of Cinema and Cultural Diffusion –– why is that Mr. Sin Chan Saya? Are you not proud to share this story of Cambodia’s forest defenders?
Before his death, Chut Wutty was a leader of a network resisting the deforestation of Prey Lang, an important forest reserve in Cambodia and home of the indigenous group Kuy.
Chut Wutty and other environmentalists have been criticizing the decision of the government to grant numerous land concessions to foreign investors with little regard for the welfare of residents and the state of environment.
Chut Wutty was killed in April 2012 in Koh Kong province by a soldier guarding a logging plantation. A government probe revealed that the shooting was an accident; but human rights groups believe it was intended to silence the protests of farmers and indigenous tribes. Environmental groups, human rights advocates, and the political opposition condemned his death.
In 2014, even United States President Barack Obama recognized the work of various individuals and groups for continuing the struggle of Chut Wutty.
The director of the film believes the decision of the Cambodian government to stop the public screening of the documentary is not merely related to a bureaucratic procedure, but a political act meant to downplay efforts to commemorate the death anniversary of Chut Wutty this week.
A full version of the film, subtitled in Khmer and English, is available on Vimeo to encourage the public to watch it. A trailer for the film is below:
Private screenings were also held across the country to discuss the continuing fight of Cambodians against land rights violations.
Chak Sopheap, a human rights activist, linked the ban to the culture of impunity in the country:
Rather than supporting these important investigative initiatives, the government is displaying its intent to silence the calls for justice, instead siding with the perpetrators of these terrible crimes. This ban provides yet another example of Cambodia’s pervasive culture of impunity, and the lengths that the government will go to preserve it.
Kalyanee Mam, who also attended a private screening of the film, warned the government that it cannot stop the people from pursuing justice:
Just as no government can ban the right to honor and respect the land, no government can prevent us from gathering and expressing our love for this land through the screening of a film. Chut Wutty lit a candle in our hearts, which will continue to burn as long as we continue to express our love for the land.