Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday provisionally charged the suspected murderer of prominent political analyst Kem Ley, while also issuing a charge for selling a firearm for an unidentified individual.
In a strange twist, the court chose to sentence the alleged gunman under the name and age he provided to police – Chuob Samlab (which translates in English to “meet to kill”), 38 – rather than his identity as confirmed by family members – 44-year-old Oeut Ang.
“We decided to charge him using his name as he gave it to us, but we will investigate to find out his real identity,” said court spokesman and prosecutor in the case Ly Sophanna.
Charged with premeditated murder and illegal weapons possession, Ang faces a possible life sentence for allegedly shooting Ley twice at close range on Sunday morning while the frequent government critic drank coffee at a Caltex service station in Phnom Penh.
Sophanna said police had also charged a second person with selling a firearm under Article 20 of Cambodia’s Law on the Management of Weapons and Explosives and Ammunition, which carries a maximum two-year jail term.
But the prosecutor refused to identify the second suspect, claiming it would compromise the investigation.
Ang, who chose to appear without the services of a lawyer yesterday, told police he shot Ley over an alleged debt with a gun bought from Thailand in a confession released online.
However, many, including Ang’s wife and mother, who live in Nokor Pheas commune in Siem Reap’s Angkor Chum district, have questioned the “debt” motive, saying they had never heard him mention Ley.
Others, including Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy, have accused the government of involvement, while media friendly to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party have similarly cast aspersions on the opposition.
Given suggestions of state involvement, many organisations have called for an independent investigation.
Senior international legal adviser for the International Council of Jurists Kingsley Abbott yesterday demanded international involvement in the investigation.
“A working hypothesis that must be investigated is that agents of the state were involved in Kem Ley’s killing, given how outspoken he was on political issues and in light of Cambodia’s troubling history of impunity for allegedly politically motivated killings,” Abbott said, via email.
Speaking yesterday, National Police spokesman Kirt Chantharith acknowledged that social media users had implicated the CPP, though noted similar allegations were being directed at the opposition.
“We will work very hard to find justice for the victim, and secondly, we want to find the bad people in order to protect our society,” Chantharith said. “We are committed to finding the person, or mastermind, who is behind the suspect, but we need time.”
Meanwhile yesterday, the Australian Ambassador to Cambodia Angela Corcoran paid her respects at Ley’s funeral at Chroy Changvar’s Wat Chas and also met with his widow, Bou Rachana, who has said she hopes to leave for Australia out of fears for her family’s safety.
Though on Tuesday the embassy said it had received no request for assistance by the family, groups in Australia, including members of the Cambodian diaspora, have offered to help Rachana and her four sons relocate.