Cambodia: significant questions remain after guilty verdict in Kem Ley trial
Cambodia should continue to investigate the killing of prominent political commentator Kem Ley in order to address key aspects of the case that appear to have been inadequately investigated, said the ICJ, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch today.
On 23 March 2017, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court found Oeuth Ang guilty of the premeditated murder of Kem Ley on 10 July 2016 and sentenced him to life imprisonment.
Prior to the half-day trial, which took place on 1 March 2017, the authorities released almost no information about the investigation.
“The trial revealed that the investigation appeared to be deficient in several important respects,” said Kingsley Abbott, the ICJ Senior International Legal Adviser who observed the trial.
“Until there is an independent, impartial and effective investigation to establish whether anyone else was involved in the killing, the victims of this serious crime, including Kem Ley’s wife and children, will be unable to obtain justice,” he added.
Even the very identity of the defendant was at issue. At trial, Oeuth Ang maintained he is 39-years-old, unmarried, and named “Chuob Samlab” – which translates in English as “Meet to Kill” – from Banteay Meanchey province.
However, the prosecutor submitted that based on the fingerprint on the ID card of Oeuth Ang, he is satisfied that the defendant is in fact Oeuth Ang, married, born in 1972, from Siem Reap province.
“The proceedings may have established that Oeuth Ang pulled the trigger, but the investigation does not seem to have considered whether someone else loaded the gun,” said Champa Patel, the Amnesty International Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. “It is clear that the authorities want to close the book on this case and move on but failures in the investigation of this heinous act can only serve to compound the injustice already suffered by the family of Kem Ley”.
The hearing commenced at 8:40 and concluded at 13:00. After Oeuth Ang gave evidence, ten witnesses gave oral testimony including two Caltex workers, seven officials who were involved in the investigation in different capacities, and a doctor who examined Kem Ley’s body at the scene of death.
Official reports and the statements of several witnesses were also read into evidence, and the prosecution played eight videos from different locations, including one captured by a closed circuit television (CCTV) camera inside the Caltex station where Kem Ley was killed.
Kem Ley’s widow, who was named as a civil party, did not appear at the trial but her civil party statement was read into evidence.
“The authorities’ failure to investigate so many clear gaps in the defendant’s story and the court’s unwillingness to examine them suggest that a quick conviction rather than uncovering all involved was the main concern,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch. “Kem Ley’s family have been outspoken in their disbelief that Oeuth Ang was solely responsible for the murder, and the trial’s conduct lends credence to their skepticism.”
Kingsley Abbott, ICJ Senior International Legal Adviser for Southeast Asia, t: +66 94 470 1345 ; email: kingsley.abbott(a)icj.org
Cambodia-KemLey Verdict-News-Press releases-2017-ENG (full story, in PDF)