The execution-style killing of popular government critic Kem Ley last month requires an independent investigation to overcome widespread suspicions in Cambodia and abroad that another political killing in the country will go unpunished, a British NGO said on Wednesday in an open letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The letter by the London-based Global Witness, which a Hun Sen spokesman swiftly rejected, said the murder of Kem Ley is “the most recent in a long line of violence against members of the opposition, activists and journalists, and is a damning indictment of the democratic process and rule of law in Cambodia.”
Kem Ley was shot dead on July 10 inside a Star Mart store beside a Caltex gas station in the capital Phnom Penh and was buried in southwestern Cambodia’s Takeo province two weeks later after a weekend funeral procession that drew around two million mourners.
Just days before he was gunned down, he had discussed on an RFA Khmer Service call-in show a report by Global Witness detailing the extent of the wealth of the family of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 31 years.
“The early stages of the investigation into Kem Ley’s killing have done nothing to allay fears that, like the others before it, this investigation will fail to identify or prosecute those who ordered the crime,” said the letter to Hun Sen, which noted that witnesses have claimed they’ve been intimidated and threatened.
“Your government must urgently commission an independent and thorough investigation into Kem Ley’s murder,” said the letter, signed by Global Witness Director Patrick Alley.
“The hundreds of thousands of Cambodian citizens who took to the streets for his funeral procession, together with the widespread international condemnation of the killing, should leave you in no doubt that anything short of an independent investigation will lack any credibility,” the letter concluded.
It was not clear whether Hun Sen, whose family denounced the earlier corruption report by Global Witness, had read the letter.
Cambodia Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan, however, said the letter was “rejected and considered worthless” by the government.
“In such cases, only the Cambodian court has jurisdiction. No other institutions are allowed to interfere in this matter. His letter was nothing short of apparent order to the government.”
Global Witness is not the only observer to voice concern that Kem Ley’s murder follows a familiar pattern in Cambodia.
“This is not the first time intellectuals, patriots, and activists who fought to rescue our country have been slain,” Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) President Sam Rainsy said on RFA’s Special Discussion Show on July 23.
“I have noted that the slaying of activists follows the same well-orchestrated style set by the authorities.”
While Sam Rainsy didn’t directly accuse Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government of carrying out the fatal attack, he recited a litany of killings that he claims all have similar hallmarks. These killings would be impossible to carry out with official cover, he said.
“Those include the grenade attack [on an opposition political rally] on March 30, 1997; the killings of well-known union leader Chea Vichea, and two other union leaders, namely Ros Sovanareth and Hy Vuthy; as well as Chut Wutty and the recent case of Dr. Kem Ley,” he said during the broadcast, reciting a list of unsolved killings.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Paul Eckert.