A former soldier sentenced to life in prison in March for murdering prominent Cambodian political analyst Kem Ley filed an appeal through his attorney on Thursday, arguing that the punishment handed down by the trial court is too harsh.
On March 23, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Oeuth Ang—who calls himself Chuob Samlab, a Khmer name meaning “meet to kill”—solely responsible for Kem Ley’s death and guilty of illegal possession of a weapon and premeditated murder.
Kem Ley, 46, was gunned down on the morning of July 10, 2016, as he stopped for coffee in a Star Mart store at a gasoline station at a busy intersection in the capital Phnom Penh.
Yung Phanith, Oeuth Ang’s attorney, said his client considers life imprisonment too heavy a penalty to pay because it does not offer him an opportunity to rehabilitate himself.
“He [Oeuth Ang] said that the court has punished him too heavily,” said Yung Phanith. “Life imprisonment is too harsh a sentence. He wants the appeals court to reduce the sentence so that he can have a chance to reform himself and return to live in his community after he has served a reduced sentence.”
Am Sam Ath, head of investigations for the domestic rights group Licadho, said that although Oeuth Ang has the legal right to appeal the court’s decision, the most important consideration in the matter is that the court must conduct a further investigation to clear up public doubt about how the case has been handled.
Oeuth Ang confessed during his brief March 1 trial to shooting Kem Ley twice at point-blank range over an unpaid U.S. $3,000 debt, though his motive was not supported by physical evidence, and witness testimony suggested others were involved in the crime.
Several inconsistencies in Oeuth Ang’s statements also prompted widespread skepticism over how the case was handled.
Later that month, more than 60 local civil society organizations issued a statement demanding that an independent commission comprised of experts from outside Cambodia investigate Kem Ley’s murder, citing what they called an insufficient investigation of the case.
“I don’t think the case ends with Chuob Samlab being sentenced,” said Am Sam Ath. “The court will need to find other people who are behind this murder.”
“Those who were responsible for the crime must be brought in for prosecution,” he said. “Justice will need to be done and seen to be done to the victim’s family. Something needs to done to restore public faith in justice.”
Reported by Sonorng Khe for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.