July 11, 2016

Shooting Death of Popular Activist Roils Cambodia

Slain activist Kem Ley’s body lies in the Buddhist temple Watt Bodhiyarame in the Cambodin capital Phnom Penh, on July 10, 2016.RFA

2016-07-10 RFA

Cambodian civil society expressed shock on Sunday at the shooting death of an activist and critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government, a killing that came amid months of political tensions as the country faces elections next year.

Kem Ley, 46, researcher and leader of the advocacy group Khmer for Khmer was shot two times in a store at a gas station in the capital Phnom Penh, police said a statement.

Reuters news agency quoted Eng Hy, a spokesman for the National Military Police, as saying “Kem Ley was shot dead” and the agency quoted a Cambodian Interior Ministry statement as saying a 38-year old suspect has been arrested, and has admitted to killing Kem Ley in a dispute over money.

Hun Sen took to social media to condemn the slaying and order an investigation.

"I pay my condolences over the death of Kem Ley, who was shot by a gunman," Hun Sen said on his Facebook page. "I condemn this brutal act.

Ou Virak, founder of the NGO “Future Forum,” said Cambodia has lost “a hero in the hearts of all Khmer. “

“We lost a good human being who has participated in social and political activities to push Cambodia to move forward,” he told RFA’s Khmer Service.

An official of the domestic human rights group LICADHO, Am Sam Ath, told RFA that his and other watchdog groups demand that the government handle the investigation carefully.

“We of civil society insist that authorities investigate the motive of this shooting death properly to dispel suspicion that the killing of Kem Ley is political,” he said.

Official account doubted

The executive director of  the Cambodian Commission on Human Rights, Chak Sopheap, called on civil society to step up activism an not be cowed by the killing of Kem Ley.

“I hope that all the citizens will continue participating in social-political activities despite what has happened,” she said. “It is only our participation to ensure that Cambodia can develop human rights and democracy.”

Political tension between long-ruling strongman Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) has been intensifying this year as the parties prepare to contest local elections in 2017 and a general election in 2018.

Reuters quoted Kem Ley's pregnant wife, Pou Rachana, as saying “I don't know what happened, somebody just called me and said that he's shot," Pou Rachana told Reuters.

Thousands of supporters followed a procession taking Kem Ley’s body to a Buddhist pagoda in Phnom Penh, where his coffin was covered with flowers and fruit.

University student Kem Kim from Kampong Cham province told RFA he did not accept the police account of the killing.

“I want to find justice for him and find the real murderer.  I do not believe that he owed other people money.  I don’t believe it,” he said as he fought back tears.

A widely quoted analyst, Kem Ley has appeared on a RFA Khmer Service call-in show to discuss a report by the London-based NGO Global Witness documenting how Hun Sen and his family had amassed a $200 million fortune. The Hun family dismissed the report.

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