Thirty international and local civil society organizations demanded the government establish an independent commission to investigate the killing of prominent political commentator Kem Ley, saying that authorities have failed to take steps towards an impartial inquiry.
In a statement released one day before the fourth anniversary of the killing of the prominent human rights defender, 30 organizations including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Licadho, Adhoc and the Cambodian Center for Human Rights called for an independent Commission of Inquiry to conduct an effective investigation into Kem Ley’s death.
“We, the 30 undersigned organizations, will continue our call for an independent, impartial, effective, and thorough investigation into Kem Ley’s killing until all those responsible are brought to justice,” the statement said.
“We further urge the Cambodian authorities to cease intimidation and harassment of persons peacefully commemorating his passing,” it added.
However, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak turned down the civil society groups’ demand for an independent commission, noting that police officials had already arrested the culprit Oeuth Ang, who had identified himself as “Chuob Samlab,” or “meet kill” in Khmer. Ang was sentenced in March 2017 to life imprisonment for premeditated murder and of carrying or transporting a weapon without authorization.
“I am so tired that it is the same, same issue,” he said. “We do not have anything in response.”
“I do not need to see [the statement] because I already know their purpose,” he said, adding that “they” would call for the same thing next year on July 10, seemingly referring to rights groups that are often critical of the government.
“We have already arrested a culprit and the court has convicted him, and the court has also split the case which is now undergoing procedures,” he said.
In April 2017, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court split a new case from the original murder trial and started a second investigation into Kem Ley’s murder even though the killer is behind bars.
The court said that the second case was to discover who introduced Ang to Kem Ley and how the man had obtained a Glock pistol.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman Y Rin said July 9 that the investigating judge is still processing the case.
“It [the second case] is under the procedure of investigation, so I can’t give detailed information,” he said.
However, Am Sam Ath, deputy director at rights group Licadho, said that justice has yet to be served in the case, and said he was skeptical when at the time of Kem Ley’s killing, government officials claimed Oeuth Ang had committed the crime over a $3,000 debt the political analyst owed him.
“We think that the murder of Dr. Kem Ley has not seen justice yet, because we saw only Chuob Samlab was convicted but the person who is involved and behind the case still has not faced the law,” he said.
“The reason that Kem Ley owed $3,000 was not truthful, and if we look at the background of both [men], they never knew each other,” he said.
He said that the civil society group would continue to demand the government create an independent commission to investigate the killing.
“It has been four years now and there has been no progress in the investigation by a court official,” Sam Ath said.
Sam Ath said that carrying out an independent investigation into Kem Ley’s death was important because he had embodied the spirit of human rights.
“Finding justice for Dr. Kem Ley will help us promote the right to freedom of expression,” Sam Ath said. “He played an important role in promoting human rights issues in Cambodia and in building awareness among Cambodian people.”
According to the July 9 joint statement, the civil society groups said the Cambodian government’s apparent lack of interest in investigating Kem Ley’s death raised suspicions that his murder was related to his work as a human rights defender.
“Kem Ley had often spoken on political and social issues,” the statement says. “He was killed just days after he had spoken in an interview about an investigative report ‘Hostile Takeover’, released by the international nongovernmental organization Global Witness, which detailed widespread corruption in Cambodia tied to Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and his family.”
Separately, during a planned march from Phnom Penh to Kem Ley’s hometown in Takeo province’s Daun Keo City also on July 9, some 50 police officers attempted to block the road to stop dozens of youth activists and monks from walking through.
Human right activist Keo Reaksmey, 19, said that police had set up barriers and sent dozens of officers to block the group. However, she said some of the youth had continued walking and were not detained by police.
“There was a little confrontation when we handed out some books by Dr. Kem Ley to bystanders, but authorities seized those books,” she said, adding that she quickly took the books back from the officers.
Another ceremony on July 8 to mark the death anniversary was blocked by about 50 police officers and security guards. A small group of monks and youth had attempted to hold a religious ceremony at the Caltex gas station in Phnom Penh where Kem Ley was killed, but were thwarted.