From the moment political analyst Kem Ley was murdered in cold blood while drinking his morning coffee inside a Star Mart convenience store in July, calls have rung out from his friends, family and legion of fans for the CCTV footage of the shooting to be made public.
On Wednesday, with the trial of the government critic’s alleged killer, the wait was over—but the segments of video that were released have only led to more questioning of the official narrative that Oeuth Ang, the alleged killer, acted alone.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court screened grainy footage of a man, allegedly Mr. Ang, walking into the mart, pulling out a gun and shooting a man, purportedly Kem Ley. This was followed by numerous, far clearer, shots of the suspected gunman’s escape and arrest.
Hours after the conclusion of the trial, which lasted just four hours and only served to cement the claims that Mr. Ang killed Kem Ley over $3,000, the same footage was uploaded online by government mouthpiece Fresh News.
The first, and perhaps most widespread, suspicion has been how unclear the footage of the shooting is. The back of a man wearing a red T-shirt, similar to the color Kem Ley was wearing on the day he was killed, can be seen, but his face is out of frame. No footage was released from the other CCTV cameras in the Star Mart, including those that would show Kem Ley head-on.
There is no time or date on the screen, unlike the later CCTV shots, and there is no footage of Mr. Ang’s movements before he entered the store.
In the later footage, Mr. Ang, who maintained in court that his name was “Chuop Samlap,” or “Meet Kill,” is seen turning down Mao Tse Toung Boulevard and running down a sidewalk as two women run ahead.
At this point, a white SUV drives up behind Mr. Ang. Alongside the car is a motorbike, carrying a passenger holding what appears to be an AK-47 assault rifle. A man driving on the opposite side of the road on a large motorbike, similar to those driven by military police, then sees Mr. Ang, quickly turns 180 degrees and also begins following him.
The man carrying the AK-47 jumps from the motorbike and briefly stands outside an optician’s. Then he climbs into the SUV, which continues to slowly follow Mr. Ang.
The video then cuts to shaky mobile phone footage, which was uploaded to Facebook in August. It appears to show the same large motorbike that switched directions to follow Mr. Ang minutes earlier riding alongside him. With close inspection, it is clear that the motorbike carries National Police insignia.
The rider—possibly a plainclothes police officer—appears to talk with Mr. Ang, at which point the gunman briefly mounts the motorbike. But then he jumps off and continues running down the street. The footage aroused suspicions when it was first uploaded due to the apparent familiarity between the police officer and Mr. Ang.
After dropping his gun, Mr. Ang mounts a different police motorbike, at which point two men start to kick and punch him.
A uniformed police officer arrives, drags the suspect off the motorbike and attempts to protect him from punches. The officer then puts Mr. Ang back on the motorbike, jumps on behind him, and the driver—not in police uniform—drives away with both of them.
The behavior of the white SUV, the motorbike with the passenger carrying an AK-47, and the plainclothes police officer who began pursuing Mr. Ang has raised eyebrows among those following the case closely.
“The strange behavior of the white SUV and the two men on the motorcycle that leisurely follow the running Oeuth Ang needs to be urgently investigated,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in an email.
“Rather than intervening, they appear to be following along to make sure that nothing goes awry in the suspect’s ultimately failed escape, which raises the question of who they are and whether they were part of a larger group of conspirators,” he said.
Despite this, it appears that the driver of the motorbike carrying the man holding the AK-47 is one of the men punching and kicking Mr. Ang toward the end of the video.
Mr. Ang told the court on Wednesday that he had murdered Kem Ley because the analyst failed to provide him with a job and house as promised after he gave the victim $3,000, despite initially telling police that he had killed Kem Ley over an unpaid loan. The families of both men have said the two had never even met.
Another observation by the network of Facebook sleuths that dissected the footage over the past day was that the shoes the gunman is wearing in the Star Mart appear to differ from those in photos showing him after his arrest on the same day. He appears to be wearing trainers with white soles in the CCTV footage, while in photos alongside police officers he is wearing black dress shoes.
This has led to conspiracy theories that the footage from inside the store is fake, an idea supported by activist monk and Kem Ley’s close friend But Buntenh.
“I am sure that this is not the original video footage. I do not agree to accept this is the video that clearly shows the activities of shooting Dr. Kem Ley,” he said.
“Why is the video on the road…very clear and very smooth? We can see everything. But why in the Star Mart it is not clear at all? Why can the video record the image from a distance clearly? Why is the camera not able to record the image close to the camera? It is unbelievable,” he added.
“I would like to see all the activities for the whole day on 10 July, from evening to midnight, to morning and then until the time Kem Ley was shot.”
Municipal court officials could not be reached. Police who investigated the case have declined to comment since it moved to the court.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager at rights group Licadho, said the only way the government could prevent further speculation about the motives behind the murder would be to release more CCTV footage.
“We want to see another angle so we can see where the shooting took place…where we can also see Kem Ley’s face and the act of shooting,” he said.
“That could reduce many suspicions.”
(Additional reporting by Phan Soumy)
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