The wife of slain political analyst Kem Ley yesterday expressed a desire for her family to leave the country because of concerns for their safety, as several people close to the murdered government critic said he appeared to be under surveillance in the days leading up to his death.
Ley, a prominent analyst and founder of the Khmer for Khmer grassroots political movement, was gunned down on Sunday morning while drinking his morning coffee at a petrol station in Phnom Penh.
Former soldier and ex-monk Oeut Ang, 44, was arrested near the scene and, after two days of questioning, is expected to be charged today, according to Phnom Penh court spokesman Ly Sophanna.
In a recorded confession, the suspect claimed Ley owed him money, though suggestions of a political motive circulated almost immediately given the victim’s high profile and criticism of the government.
In an interview recorded yesterday obtained by the Post, Ley’s wife, Bou Rachana, said she feared for the safety of her four children and wanted to leave for Australia, where people had made offers of support.
“[Before], we felt happy and comfortable living in the country, [but now] there is no safety and we are concerned about my family’s safety,” said Rachana, who is pregnant with the couple’s fifth child.
Rachana said she had been in touch with groups in Australia who had pledged to try and help the family relocate. The Australian Embassy yesterday said no formal request for asylum or assistance had been received.
Ley’s murder came following months of rising political tension in Cambodia, something pointed out by Transparency International in a statement yesterday condemning the killing and calling for a thorough investigation.
The organisation also expressed concern at the “increasing restrictions” on NGOs and the “harassment” of activists. In recent months, opposition members and several human rights workers have been jailed, while legal cases have been brought against the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s president Sam Rainsy and acting president Kem Sokha.
Rainsy, who has once again fled into self-imposed exile, has accused the government of involvement in the slaying, though Prime Minister Hun Sen has lashed out at what he has labelled attempts to politicise the case.
In the wake of the killing, people close to Ley, including his nephew, said the critic had expressed concerns for his safety.
On Friday, Ley met with five young activists at the same table where he would be killed 48 hours later.
Speaking at Ley’s funeral yesterday, environmental campaigner Chum Hour, who was at that meeting, said their two-hour talk was being monitored by at least four men, including one with a walkie-talkie.
Aware of this, Ley directed the activists to take photos in the direction of the unidentified observers, he said. “They were all big; three of them constantly walked in and out while one sat nearby listening to the conversation,” Hour said.
A day prior, on Thursday, head of the Independent Monk Network for Social Justice But Buntenh, also met Ley at the Caltex service station. “He told me he was being tracked at his house and at the coffee shop,” said Buntenh, who called for the government to release security camera footage of the incident.
According to a Caltex staff member yesterday, authorities had retrieved the security camera’s memory following the shooting. Spokesmen for the National Police and Interior Ministry were unreachable yesterday to discuss the security footage or to comment on reports that Ley was being tailed, which were also backed by fellow analyst Meas Ny.
“We experienced it in two cases, first at a coffee shop in Boeung Kangkor . . . and secondly, there was a person looking for his home,” Ny said.
Meanwhile yesterday, mourners continued to pay their respects at Wat Chas in Chroy Changvar district, where Ley’s body will stay until next week.
Sourn Serey Ratha, president of the Khmer Power Party, among a number of political figures to visit, yesterday criticised the Cambodian People’s Party for not sending any of its top members, however ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan said any such action would be made political and lead to conflict.
Additional reporting by Meas Sokchea and Shaun Turton