Admirers of slain environmental activist Chut Wutty say hundreds of people will mark the fifth anniversary of his fatal shooting on Wednesday by gathering along the Phnom Penh riverside and watching a banned movie about his life—moves expected to raise the ire of city officials.
The committed conservationist, who had frequently tangled with authorities over the years, was shot dead on April 26, 2012, while investigating illegal logging in the Cardamom Mountains of Koh Kong province. But many Cambodians don’t believe the official account of his death, turning him into something of a martyr among government critics.
Chut Wutty sits on a pile of illegally logged wood during a Prey Long forest patrol in February 2012. (National Resource Protection Group)Tim Malay, director of the Cambodian Youth Network, said on Monday that he expected about 200 people to mark the anniversary in Phnom Penh by gathering at 5 p.m. at the tiny Preah Ang Dangker shrine, which sits along the river in front of the Royal Palace, for a traditional Buddhist blessing.
“We remember him and want justice for him,” Mr. Malay said. “We want the youth to continue his legacy of protecting natural resources.”
He said they also planned to watch “I Am Chut Wutty,” an hourlong documentary about the activist of which the government has refused to allow any public screenings. Police broke up a showing of the film during last year’s anniversary on the grounds that the organizers had not sought and received government approval.
Mr. Malay said this year’s participants hoped to get around the problem by watching the film, though still as a group, on their smartphones.
City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey, however, said the gathering would not be allowed because the organizers had not informed authorities of their plans.
“If they do not inform us with a formal letter, their event is not permitted and City Hall will take action against them,” he said.
Chut Wutty stands near helicopter during his Prey Long forest patrol in February 2012. (National Resource Protecting Group)The spokesman declined to explain what that action might be, though police have often arrested those taking part in politically charged public events they have not approved. The city has also used its district security guards to break up unauthorized events with brute force.
Mr. Malay said they did not notify the city, a move that risked rejection, because they were organizing what he described as a primarily religious event.
“We did not inform City Hall about the event because it is a Buddhist ceremony and it does not affect public order or cause social instability,” he said, citing two of the government’s most frequent reasons for rejecting plans for peaceful protests.
Chut Wutty was traveling with two Cambodia Daily reporters at the time of his death. The shooting happened after a security guard for the Timber Green logging company and several military police and soldiers confiscated cameras from the reporters and Chut Wutty, and would not let them leave the area.
The government claims Chut Wutty was shot accidentally by a military police officer who was then immediately shot dead himself while tussling over the murder weapon with the security guard. The courts soon closed the investigation and sentenced the guard to a two-year prison sentence, but released him after a few months.
Rights groups slammed the investigation as inadequate and characterized it as a cover-up.
roeun@cambodiadaily.com
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