Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - For civil society, defiance in wake of Kem Ley's murder

For civil society, defiance in wake of Kem Ley's murder

Kem Sokha (left) talks with CNRP members at the party’s headquarters in Phnom Penh yesterday before they visited Wat Chas pagoda to pay their respects to Kem Ley. Photo supplied
Kem Sokha (left) talks with CNRP members at the party’s headquarters in Phnom Penh yesterday before they visited Wat Chas pagoda to pay their respects to Kem Ley. Photo supplied

For civil society, defiance in wake of Kem Ley's murder

Civil society yesterday refused to be cowed by the Sunday morning murder of leading political commentator Kem Ley, with many saying that concerns for their own safety are now secondary to their determination not to be silenced.

Seventy NGOs endorsed a statement condemning the “brutal murder” of Kem Ley, insisting analysts be allowed to continue their work “without fear of violence and intimidation”.

Koul Panha, head of election watchdog Comfrel, said he feared Ley’s murder was the latest escalation in a troubling series.

“I see a pattern that concerns me: the crackdown on lawmakers, the arrest of human rights activists, and now assassination. I’m very concerned, because during the ’90s this happened also,” Panha said, adding that a muffling of civil society had begun before Ley’s death.

But there was little evidence of that muffling yesterday among civil society members contacted by the Post. Moeun Tola, head of labour rights NGO Central, said the fate of human rights defenders is “not secure in a country of human rights violations” but that for “the youth, the young generation, we need to do something”.

“Everyone has fear,” he said. “But I compare it to when you fall sick. You go to the doctor and he says you need to get injections. You will get hurt by the injections, but the hurt that you get is very short, and after, your sickness will be gone. That’s the point I explained to my family.

“We understand that the abuser will never be happy to see us speaking about them. Their intention is to hide everything as much as possible, so we need to do the opposite.”

Similarly defiant was Chak Sopheap, head of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, where she and Ley were colleagues for a time.

“One murder happened; it’s traumatic, but it’s not the only incident that has happened,” Sopheap said.

“As civil society activists, we all know the risks ahead. Kem Ley knew the risks.

“To let this incident silence us, it’s a victory for those who want to silence us. The only step ahead is to continue our operations as usual. As long as we stay peaceful, stay on our mandate to protect human rights, we have done our role.”

Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia, said in an email that the organisation’s often statistics-driven output left nowhere to hide.

“There is no room for adjustment, even though we know that we may face various consequences for speaking the truth,” Kol said.

Analyst Ou Virak reflected on Sunday that had someone else been shot that day, Ley would not have backed down in the face of violence.

“I think he would stand up and defend and continue the work. He would continue to speak his mind and continue to tell it as it is,” Virak said.

Meanwhile, the Cambodia National Rescue Party issued a statement expressing concern for the safety of its lawmakers, asking them to use the party offices as a safe haven as necessary.

Lawmakers Eng Chhay Eang and Ou Chanrith yesterday said that party members had legitimate reason to be concerned, given their vocal opposition to the government.

“We have noted in the past that these cases always take place against groups opposing the government,” Chhay Eang said. “We will still fulfil our role as lawmakers but we must be careful.”

However, Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the opposition had no reason to be afraid.

“Don’t worry, none of the CNRP lawmakers are going to die,” he said.


  • Massive stingrays may live in Mekong’s deep pools

    US scientists have suggested that unexplored deep pools in the Mekong River in an area of Stung Treng could potentially be home to significant populations of giant freshwater stingrays, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish species. This comes as a fisherman hooked a 180

  • PM takes time to meet, greet Cambodians living in the US

    After landing in the US ahead of the ASEAN-US Special Summit, Prime Minister Hun Sen was received by over 1,000 Cambodian-Americans including political analysts who welcomed him with greetings, fist bumps and selfies. Hun Sen also met with analyst Mak Hoeun, who had allegedly spoken ill

  • PM reflects on shoe throwing: Free speech or act of violence?

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on May 17 questioned whether a man who threw a shoe at him while he was in the US was exercising freedom of expression or if it was an act of hostility. Hun Sen was referring to an incident last week when

  • Chinese tourists 2.0 – Coming anytime soon?

    Regional tourism is grappling with the absence of the prolific travellers and big spenders – the Chinese tourists. Cambodia, which has welcomed over two million Chinese tourists before Covid-19, is reeling from the economic loss despite being the first to fully open last November ‘To put

  • Prime Minister Hun Sen warmly welcomed by president Biden

    Prime Minister Hun Sen, as ASEAN chair, and other ASEAN leaders were warmly welcomed by US president Joe Biden as the ASEAN-US summit May 12-13 kicked off today in Washington. “This evening, I welcomed ASEAN leaders to the White House for the first time in

  • Third Makro outlet planned for capital’s Chroy Changvar

    Makro (Cambodia) Co Ltd is set to invest $12.7 million in its third Cambodian outlet, this time in northeast Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar district, an area dotted with high-end residential developments, as shopping behaviours continue to evolve in tandem with economic growth. The Cambodian Investment