Suspicions of Political Motives in Cambodian Critic’s Murder

Suspicions of Political Motives in Cambodian Critic’s Murder
在位剛滿30年的柬埔寨總理洪森(Hun-Sen)。Photo Credit:AP/ 達志影像

What you need to know

The murder of an outspoken government critic is seen as major blow for Cambodian democracy and has raised speculation over the involvement of the ruling regime.

Kem Ley, a prominent Cambodian political critic, was murdered at a gas station in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh yesterday. Analysts say the killing is a major setback for freedom of speech and democracy in the country.

Ley, 45, was shot in the head and died at the scene. He had been drinking coffee at the station’s convenience store. Police later arrested a man, who claimed that he killed Ley over a US$3,000 debt.

The killer’s claim is in question. Ley’s wife said, “It is a political issue,” The Phnom Penh Post reports. Police are still investigating the case.

Rising tensions

There has been rising political tension between Cambodia's Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), which hopes to challenge Hun’s regime in elections next year.

Hun is facing the most serious challenge to his authority in years. The CNRP nearly triumphed in the 2013 elections amid the rise of a younger generation of voters who are more educated and better informed than their parents, as well as growing disappointment with widespread corruption and inefficient government institutions.

Hun, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and Ministry of Interior issued statements condemning the killing. CNRP leader Sam Rainsy suggested that the government is behind the murder, labelling Ley’s death “state-backed terrorism."

“Because he apparently represented a political danger for the other side, the latter hired a hitman to assassinate him,” Rainsy said.

Manina Kiai, a U.N. special rapporteur on the rights to freedom and assembly, said the murder was “highly alarming” and pointed at the possibility of state involvement.

Kiai emphasized Ley’s recent comments in local media about the Hun family’s business interests.

“Circumstances are plainly suspicious given his standing as a critic of the government and his recent comments in the media,” Kiai said.

Global Witness, an organization exposing corruption and environmental abuse, noted murderers in Cambodia’s “long history” of assassinations of political, human rights and labor activists were “rarely brought to justice.”

Wanton attacks, regional implications

Malaysia MP Charles Santiago is the chairperson for ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights. He described the killing as, “a tragedy for Cambodia and the entire ASEAN region.”

“Kem Ley was a voice for accountability and grassroots democracy and was not afraid to stand up for what was right,” he says. “Cambodia has lost a true champion of political independence and clean government.”

Santiago says that the circumstances surrounding Ley’s death have left many suspicious of ulterior motives.

“Given the recent context of wanton attacks on opposition voices and civil society, only a truly independent inquiry into this murder will dispel suspicions, ease tensions, and promote the rule of law and an end to impunity.”

He adds that if Cambodia is to develop into a successful member of ASEAN, those who publicly advocate for positive change “must have the freedom to continue their work without fear of intimidation or violent retribution.”

First Editor: Edward White
Second Editor: Olivia Yang