Philadelphia film about slain Cambodian activist wins Peabody

The Peabody Award has been given to a Philadelphia filmmaker.  The prestigious award for broadcasting journalism honored a low-budget documentary about the assassination of a Cambodian labor activist.

“Who Killed Chea Vichea?” is about the labor organizer of the title, assassinated in 2004. The making of the documentary was started literally the moment he was shot, as producer Bradley Cox just happened to be living in Phnom Penh, with a video camera, near the crime scene.

For the next seven years he and Philadelphia resident Rich Garella tracked popular outcry and the official government investigation, which Garella says was a cover-up.

“The regime is the only beneficiary of the killing, the regime controls the police, it controls weapons, it controls the courts,” said Garella. “As you see the movie, it is very difficult to escape the conclusion that the government was behind the killing.”

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Chea Vichea was an internationally recognized labor activist who organized hundreds of thousands of garment workers in Cambodian sweatshops. The two men arrested for his killing were widely seen as innocent scapegoats. After the documentary was made, they were released from prison but still officially regarded as guilty.

“When he was killed it was a huge message to political opposition members in Cambodia that, if Chea Vichea can be killed, you can be killed,” said Garella.

“Who Killed Chea Vichea?” was made with roughly $300,000, a fraction of what a typical hour long documentary normally costs. It was broadcast on many PBS stations in 2011, including WHYY last May. It was banned in Cambodia.

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