Cambodians Mourn Political Analyst Kem Ley on Anniversary of His Murder

NGOs demand an independent probe into his shooting, which occurred in broad daylight in the capital.

Mourners observe Kem Ley's funeral procession in Phnom Penh, July 24, 2016.

Cambodians from various walks of life gathered on Tuesday to mark the second anniversary of the assassination of prominent political analyst Kem Ley, who was gunned down in the capital Phnom Penh days after publicly criticizing Prime Minister Hun Sen and his family for abuse of power.

Human rights activists, union officials and other supporters laid wreaths and paid their respects at the Caltex petrol station in Phnom Penh where Kem Ley was murdered in broad daylight on July 10, 2016, and at his home in Takeo province.

President of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU) Rong Chhun told RFA’s Khmer Service after visiting the site of Kem Ley’s death that he remains shocked by the killing and demanded that the authorities “reveal the true facts” of the incident.

“On behalf of CCU, we want to see the Phnom Penh authorities create an investigation commission to investigate the gunning down of Kem Ley and have the person behind his murder punished according to law, so the justice can be rendered for his family, friends and the people of Cambodia,” he said.

Kem Ley’s body was kept for two weeks at a Buddhist temple before being taken to his home town in Takeo province on July 24, 2016, with hundreds of thousands of mourners and supporters later attending his funeral procession.

Soon after the funeral, and fearing for their safety, his wife Bou Rachana—then pregnant—fled with her children from Cambodia to neighboring Thailand to seek asylum in a third country. They spent over a year and a half in Thailand before being granted permission to settle in Australia in February.

Authorities charged a former soldier named Oeuth Ang with the murder and sentenced him to life in prison in March last year, but many in Cambodia do not believe the government’s story that Kem Ley was killed by the man over a debt.

The Phnom Penh Post on Monday quoted Seng Leang, the investigative judge at Phnom Penh Municipal Court who is handling an additional investigation into the murder, as saying that Kem Ley’s case is still open.

“We are investigating the case and it is not closed as yet,” Seng Leang told the Post, adding that he could not say how many people are currently under investigation.

The newspaper also cited Phnom Penh municipal police chief Song Ly as saying that he had not received a court order to re-examine the case and referring further questions back to the court.

Call for probe

Ahead of the anniversary of Kem Ley’s death, New York-based Human Rights Watch slammed Cambodia for failing to carry out a credible, impartial investigation into the murder, urging the government to invite the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the country to conduct its own probe and commit to act on its findings.

“Kem Ley apparently paid with his life for becoming a popular critic of massive corruption at the highest levels of government,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams said in a statement on Monday.

“The Cambodian government claims to respect the rule of law, but since Kem Ley’s murder the authorities have ignored all investigative leads and harassed critics who demand justice.”

Human Rights Watch noted that since Kem Ley’s murder, Cambodia’s government has harassed individuals who have expressed doubt over the official version of events or who have offered alternative theories about who was responsible for his death, and that a number of them have been sued for defamation.

Political commentator Kim Sok was sentenced to 18 months in prison and hefty fines after he alluded in an interview with RFA to the involvement of Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) in Kem Ley’s assassination.

Sam Rainsy, the former leader of the now-banned opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), and Thak Lany, a former CNRP senator, were each slapped with lawsuits when they claimed that Hun Sen had ordered the murder of Kem Ley, and both are now living in self-imposed exile.

“The past two decades are littered with dead critics of Hun Sen, yet the people who ordered these killings are never arrested, let alone prosecuted,” Adams said.

“The UN and foreign donors should insist that this time is different and that Kem Ley’s killers are brought to justice.”

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sok Ry Sum. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.