Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

NGOs continue to demand justice ahead of anniversary of murder of Kem Ley

People pray in front of a portrait of Kem Ley after he was shot dead in Phnom Penh, Picture taken July 24, 2016. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
People pray in front of a portrait of Kem Ley after he was shot dead in Phnom Penh, Picture taken July 24, 2016. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Ahead of the sixth anniversary of the murder of Kem Ley, civil society groups once more urged the Cambodian government to carry out an independent and public investigation.

The prominent political commentator was gunned down at a Caltex gas station in Phnom Penh allegedly over a $3,000 debt on July 10, 2016. The gunman, Oeuth Ang, who gave his name as “Chuob Samlab”, or “Meet to Kill”, was sentenced to life in prison in 2017 for premeditated murder and for illegally obtaining a weapon.

Chak Sopheap, executive director at CCHR, said that the murder of Kem Ley constitutes one of the most emblematic cases of impunity in Cambodia.

“The investigation into his murder lacked genuineness and thoroughness, and the farcical trial was widely criticized for its failure to meet international fair trial rights standards,” she said.

“It is crucial to continue honoring Kem Ley’s memory and legacy, and to demand justice.”

National Police spokesman, Chhay Kim Khoeun, said that civil society groups have no right to order an investigation, noting that the court had already convicted the real culprit.

“I am upset when you asked that question because civil society groups are not the court, and we have only implemented the court warrant, and this case was completely finished,” he said.

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court launched a second investigation into some aspects of the case later in 2017, which a court official said this month was still underway.

Y Rin, Phnom Penh Municipal Court spokesman, could not be reached for comment.

On July 6, 2022, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) commemorated the anniversary of Kem Ley’s death, with a special event that included offering food to monks, reciting a poem from the public dedicated to him, and hosting a discussion of his work.

Kem Ley’s wife Bou Rachana, who fled to  live in Australia with her five sons shortly after his killing, spoke in a pre-recorded video urging a full investigation into his case.

“For this justice, I have not recognized from the beginning because we know that doctor [Kem Ley] could not afford to borrow $ 3,000 from another person [Oeuth Ang] and the one who lent him also does not have money to lend him,” Ms. Rachana said.

Kem Ley’s wife, Bou Rachana, speaks in a video shown on CCHR’s Facebook to remark the sixth year anniversary of his murder, in Phnom Penh, July 6, 2022. CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

 Campaign to remember Kem Ley’s legacy

In commemoration of the anniversary, CCHR is conducting a series of activities throughout July. This includes sharing quotes and pictures of Kem Ley online from 2 to 7 July, to raise public awareness of Kem Ley and of his work, and to keep him in the collective memory.

“I will speak what others won’t” reads one of the posts. “The education of Cambodian people is the priority,” and “If you speak, speak the truth”, and “The only long-lasting security that safeguard us is the heart of our people,”

Some activists, including the Khmer Student Intelligent League Association, are planning to pay their respects by laying a wreath at Caltex gas station, where Kem Ley was shot to death inside the station’s convenience store while having his morning coffee.

“We aren’t afraid because for us, who have seen impunity and social injustice, insecurity in Cambodia, we won’t worry of arrest,” said Koet Saray, president of Khmer Student Intelligent League Association.

He said that in spite of the court decision, the public continues to consider the murder to be “politically motivated”

“Killing him is related to internal politics to grip power,” Mr. Saray said, adding that Kem Ley had influence to attract supporters as shown by the hundred thousand mourners who marched on the street following his death.

“We cannot accept [that the court convicted the killer] that is the reason we remain to demand justice,” he said.