A controversial video, which features a “provocative” song and graphic footage of a violent clash between protesting garment workers and authorities nine years back, has been removed from the official websites and social media pages of four civil society organisations (CSOs).
The four – rights group LICADHO; Centre for Alliance of Labour and Human Rights (CENTRAL); Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA); and Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC) – removed the video after they were summoned by the Phnom Penh municipal police for clarification over their intent to share it.
The video featuring the song – titled Blood of Workers and recorded by Kea Sokun – was released on social media earlier this month. It made extensive use of video footage from protests in front of a garment factory owned by Yakjin Cambodia Inc, on Veng Sreng street. The protests took place in late 2013 and early 2014, and resulted in the death of one protester.
The questioning by the police’s technology crimes bureau came at the request of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, which claimed in a January 6 letter signed by minister Phoeurng Sackona and addressed to National Police chief Neth Savoeun that it was provocative and intended to incite social disorder.
The municipal police met with LICADHO deputy director Am Sam Ath on January 9, and with IDEA president Vorn Pov and CENTRAL executive director Moeun Tola the following day.
Sam Ath told The Post that he immediately convened a meeting of the organisation’s standing committee after the questioning.
“On the morning of January 10, we agreed to remove the video at the request of authorities. We are not troublemakers. What we want the most is peace and inclusive socio-economic development for the people,” he said, adding that LICADHO has no intention to provoke civil unrest.
“I explained that the video was intended to commemorate the workers who were killed or injured in the protests and to encourage the authorities to investigate. Most importantly, it served as a reminder that such violence has no place in modern Cambodian society,” he continued.
He said the police asked him to delete the music video after his explanation. “They acknowledged that the organisation had the right to share it, but warned that if it was still present after 24 hours had passed, a complaint would be lodged with the court.”
IDEA’s Pov offered a similar explanation during the questioning, before making the decision to remove it.
Reached for comment, CENTRAL’s Tola said: “The footage has been widely viewed in the nine years since the protests occurred, and has not sparked any violence. Indeed, the song uses the phrase ‘Use intelligence to solve problems’, which speaks to the non-violent solutions that we believe in.”
He said his organisation removed the music video two hours after he met with the police.
CCFC director Theng Savoeun said he was prepared to meet with authorities, but is currently overseas.
“I land on January 17, and am happy to meet with them, but I have already explained that we only shared the post from LICADHO and CENTRAL, so once it is taken down from their websites and social media, it will no longer be available on our page,” he told The Post.
He said the video was merely a reminder of a historic event, and was in no way intended to incite any form of social insecurity.
Chin Malin, spokesman for the Ministry of Justice, said the Veng Sreng protests were clearly designed to provoke civil unrest.
“They were not legitimate protests that demanded workers’ rights, as some claimed, but an obvious attempt to inspire widespread disorder and incite people to overthrow the government. The authorities had no choice but to crack down on the violent protesters in order to protect the legitimate government,” he told The Post.
He added that the promotion of any content – including music – that is intended to provoke outrage could not be considered freedom of expression.
“Therefore, it is clear that the authorities did the right thing in this case by educating these organisations. If they had not heeded the police’s warnings, the courts would have had no choice but to prosecute them in order to protect the government,” he concluded.
Culture ministry spokesman Long Bonna Sirivath insisted that the song – and its violent video – represented a serious threat to social order.
“Prosecuting this case is outside of the jurisdiction of the ministry, however. We conveyed our concerns to the National Police, who will decide on the appropriate course of action,” he told The Post.
Municipal police spokesman San Sokseyha could not be reached for comment on January 12, while National Police spokesman Chhay Kim Khoeun told The Post briefly that the case was being dealt with by specialised units.