Culture Ministry Requests Action Against Rapper Kea Sokun’s ‘Workers Blood’

3 min read
Deadly Veng Sreng workers’ protests on January 3, 2014. (VOD)
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The Culture Ministry has asked the National Police to stifle a new video by rapper Kea Sokun that calls for justice over authorities shooting and killing at least four workers in a 2014 crackdown on a protest at Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Boulevard.

In a letter dated Friday, Culture Minister Phoeurng Sackona asked National Police chief Neth Savoeun to take action to stop Sokun’s rap “Workers Blood” from circulating on social media.

Sokun’s latest song was published on Facebook on Tuesday, the ninth anniversary of authorities firing at workers amid protests for a minimum wage increase. At least four civilians were killed, another 38 were injured, and one 15-year-old boy went missing and is believed to be dead.

The video samples old clips from the 2014 protests, including news reports from U.S.-run Radio Free Asia: crowds of people marching and crying; military police descending on crowds and housing complexes at Veng Sreng Boulevard in riot gear; and bleeding workers being carried away in tuk-tuks, motorbikes and makeshift stretchers.

In the letter, Sackona requests action to “prevent potential irregularities” from the song, which she said was “provoking and inciting content that may cause insecurity and social disorder.” The letter mentioned that Sokun had been disciplined by the Interior Ministry before.

Sokun, 24, was sentenced to one year in prison in 2020 on incitement charges, along with a collaborator, for producing a nationalistic song where he raps “stand up,” “I’m opposed to the dictator,” and “the other race is encroaching.”

“Workers’ Blood,” which was co-published by labor rights group Central and human rights organization Licadho, had around 4,000 views on Central’s Facebook page as of Friday afternoon.

Over the video, Sokun raps about the lack of justice for workers who died and disappeared in “gestures full of blood.”

“For the past nine years they have been left with pain and sorrow and sadness by gestures full of blood,” he says in the song.

“There is no information and they do not know where they have drifted away. There is no one who knows, and they have been waiting for justice for the past nine years, waiting so long but there is no one held responsible.”

National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun said he hadn’t seen the Culture Ministry’s letter yet.

“As for the measures, [wait] until we look at the documents first,” he said. “I have not seen the documents, so I don’t know how to manage it yet. Wait till we see the documents, and we will follow the actual procedure.”

Sokun told VOD that he was aware of the letter, receiving it in messages from multiple people. 

He denied the ministry’s allegations that he was inciting listeners, but added he wasn’t worried about it at the moment: “I am OK, and here this is fine, but I do not know what will happen.”

Since his release from jail in 2021, Sokun has worked for Central, and he previously released a Licadho-backed rap called “Lake of Tears,” criticizing the decision to fill lakes for new real estate developments at the expense of residents and the environment.

Additional reporting by Mech Dara

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