Family and friends of Kem Ley, human rights advocates and a large swath of Cambodians on social media yesterday expressed deep scepticism over the evidence presented at the trial of the political analyst’s alleged killer, former soldier Oeut Ang.
During a hearing that lasted barely five hours on Wednesday, Ang told judges that he shot the 46-year-old at a Caltex Star Mart on July 10 last year over a $3,000 debt and claimed he acted alone.
The suspect, calling himself “Choub Samlab”, which translates to “meet to kill” in English, also identified himself as the shooter in CCTV footage of the murder and clips from traffic cameras, showing the suspect walking and running away from the scene through the streets of Phnom Penh.
But despite the later release of the video clips online, doubts about the case, widely considered a politically linked assassination, only grew yesterday.
“They clearly set it up,” said environmental activist and Ley’s friend Chum Huoth, who called the hearing “one-sided” and the footage unreliable.
Calling for more video evidence, activist monk But Buntenh, also a friend of the victim, called the trial “fruitless”.
“We wanted to see the original videos,” he said.
And as social media exploded with questions and theories, some went as far as to suggest Ang was not the triggerman, positing that an exchange had taken place.
This theory in part stemmed from a photo showing Ang after his arrest, in which he appears to wear different shoes than the ones seen in video footage of the murder.
Ley’s brother Kem Rithisith said the limited and “unclear” video footage left doubts in his mind. “It does not show clearly whether Choub Samlab is the murderer or not,” he said, criticising the lack of witnesses called at trial.
In his testimony, Ang claimed a man he met in Thailand called “Pou Lis” facilitated a meeting with Ley at a restaurant in Phnom Penh, where he handed over $3,000 in exchange for a job and house. He claimed he acquired the gun from a Thai man named “Chork”.
No reference was made in court to efforts to track these people down, and Ang’s testimony was not corroborated by independent evidence.
“How could the court not find anybody else that was behind the shooter?” asked social commentator and Ley friend Meas Ny. “The public just don’t believe this is over a debt of $3,000.”
Furthermore, during the hearing, the court heard Ang got the cash from selling land he owned in Banteay Meanchey’s Svey Chek commune.
But reached yesterday, the chief of that commune, Chouk Sophal, said he’d never heard of the suspect.
“We have never had an Oeut Ang or Choub Samlab in our commune or land that belongs to him,” he said.
Ang also testified that two people sat with Ley, with video footage capturing at least one, who wore a white shirt. Neither was among the witnesses, which only included one of three staff in the store during the murder.
“A lot of leads have not been followed,” said Naly Pilorge, director of advocacy for rights group Licadho.
In previously released clips of Ang running away, he is seen appearing familiar with a policeman while attempting to mount the officer’s motorbike.
In court, Ang testified that he threatened that driver with a gun and what appeared to be him putting his hands around his waist, was, in fact, him checking for a weapon.
But yesterday, Ang’s pursuit came under further scrutiny after the release of traffic camera videos from Mao Tse Tung Boulevard and its intersection with Norodom Boulevard, which saw him followed by a white Land Rover and four people on two motorbikes, one of whom had an AK-47.
Reached yesterday, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the group were plainclothes commune police who had not approached Ang because he was armed.
“They checked the situation before they made an intervention,” he said.
However Song Ly, Phnom Penh deputy police chief, appeared to contradict this. “We did not know about them [those in the car and on the motorbike],” he said.
Licadho investigator Am Sam Ath said the men should have been produced as witnesses, saying judges failed to challenge any evidence. “I have never seen a case like that, where the accused answers everything without a question.”