A Cambodian former soldier accused of gunning down a popular political analyst and government critic last July confessed to the crime during a more than five-hour trial on Wednesday in a packed courtroom in Phnom Penh.
Oeuth Ang acknowledged that the pistol shown during the proceedings is the one he used to shoot Kem Ley in broad daylight on July 10 when the analyst stopped in a Star Mart store at a gas station in Phnom Penh where he liked to drink coffee with friends.
Oeuth Ang—also known as Chuob Samlab, a Khmer name meaning “meet to kill”—also denied during the trial that his real name is Oeuth Ang as listed in court documents, and claimed to have no family members in northwestern Cambodia’s Siem Reap province.
Witnesses such as the coffee maker who was on duty at the Star Mart the day the crime occurred and various authorities contested Oeuth Ang’s statements.
During the hearing, an unclear video clip of the killing recorded by a Star Mart security camera was shown.
Other bits of video footage captured by street cameras showed Oeuth Ang running from the crime scene.
Prosecutor Ly Sophanna requested that the judge punish Oeuth Ang to fullest extent possible under the law based on the severity of his crime.
After listening to closing remarks by Ly Sophanna and Oeuth Ang’s lawyer Yong Panith, Judge Leang Samnat of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court said he would issue a verdict by March 23.
After the trial, officials from the notorious Prey Sar prison on the outskirts of the city escorted Oeuth Ang back to jail.
Hard to believe
Though Oeuth Ang has confessed to the killing, many in Cambodia do not believe that he killed Kem Ley over an unpaid debt as he has said, but that he was ordered to do so by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
Just days before his death, Kem Ley had discussed on an RFA Khmer Service call-in show a report by London-based Global Witness detailing the extent of the wealth of Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 31 years, and his family.
So far, Oeuth Ang is the only suspect to be charged in the case.
More than 30 people from other provinces gathered outside the courthouse to observe the proceedings which were closely watched by domestic and international journalists and human rights groups.
Am Sam Ath, a senior investigator with the domestic rights group Licadho, told RFA’s Khmer Service that he found it hard to believe that Oeuth Ang admitted to killing Kem Ley.
“[Otherwise,] it would not have been enough for the court to show only one part of [the unclear] video of the shooting as it did,” he said.
In September 2016, more than 30 member countries of the United Nations Human Rights Council urged the Cambodian government to conduct a prompt and transparent investigation into Kem Ley’s murder.
Reported by Moniroth Morm and Vuthy Tha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Sarada Taing. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.