Around 100 youth environmental activists, opposition party members and civil society group representatives marked the seventh anniversary of Kem Ley’s murder with a protest on Monday, calling on the government to provide justice in the case.
On July 10, 2016 the political commentator was shot and killed while drinking his morning coffee at a Caltex gas station at the Bokor intersection in Phnom Penh. The gunman identified by police Oeuth Ang, who was sentenced to life in prison in 2017, said his motive was an unpaid debt.
But human rights and civil society groups contend that the murder was politically motivated and are unsatisfied with the government’s investigation.
On Monday morning the young activists poured red liquid on their heads to represent what they called the “blood of the truth,” and walked single file on Mao Tse Toung Boulevard from the Ministry of Agriculture to the gas station. They carried a banner depicting Ley’s death, red dye dripping from their faces onto their white shirts.
“Please [let there] be the true blood of Dr. Kem Ley in the body of Khmer youths forever,” said Phoun Keoreaksmey, a 22-year old environmental activist.
At the event Rong Chhun, Candlelight party vice president, urged the relevant authorities and especially police officials to conduct a genuine investigation into the death of Ley.
“We have not yet seen the light of justice after seven years have passed,” he said. “They just arrested a scapegoat as a killer, and real justice has not been provided…We will always wait to see the real killer and the relevant people who are behind the killer get punished,” he said.
The person convicted for the murder identified himself at first as “Chuob Samlab” or “meet to kill” and claimed Ley owed him $3,000. He was later identified as Oeuth Ang and sentenced in March 2017 to life imprisonment for premeditated murder and illegally obtaining a weapon.
The investigation of the killing and the trial of Ang have been widely criticized, with prosecutors failing to establish if Ang had ever even met Ley.
Soeng Senkaruna, senior investigator with the human rights group ADHOC, said that the public has seen that Ang was used as a scapegoat. He urged court officials to expedite a second investigation looking into who provided the murder weapon.
“[We] continue to beg for the real killer to be found along with the other people who were involved,” he said.
Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin denied the claim from civil society groups that the killer was merely a scapegoat.
“If they have different evidence, they can cooperate with the police to review that story. But they don’t have new evidence or new testimonials, and they have always accused the government of not providing justice,” he said.
Malin said justice had already been provided through the prosecution and sentencing of Ang.
“They are demanding justice that we can’t provide them because the justice they are demanding is through their emotion and political tendency,” he said.
National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun and Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Sar Thet both could not be reached for comment.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesperson Y Rin could not be reached for comment.
Police blocked citizens from attending an anniversary event for Ley’s death in 2020, but there was no police interference this year at the Phnom Penh ceremony. A series of arrests over the last few years of environmental activists, many associated with the group Mother Nature, have been condemned for being politically motivated.
Following the ceremony at the Caltex gas station, some civil society groups held a commemoration of Ley at Solidarity House, located in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district. Members of Ley’s family also held a Buddhist ceremony on Monday in Takeo province, where Ley’s hometown is located.
Ley’s wife Bou Rachana marked the anniversary with an event hosted by the Cambodian Association of Victoria on Sunday in the city of Springvale, Australia. She, along with her and Ley’s five sons, fled to Australia soon after Ley’s death where they were granted asylum.
Rachana asked those who attended the event to “never forget the sacrifices of Dr. Kem Ley.”