The widow of slain political analyst Kem Ley said on Tuesday that she was seeking to flee Cambodia with her family and had been in contact with representatives of a Cambodian community in Australia offering to sponsor them.
A popular and outspoken critic of the government, Kem Ley, 46, was shot dead on Sunday just after sitting down for his morning coffee at a convenience store in central Phnom Penh. Police arrested the suspected shooter a few blocks away and the man quickly confessed to the murder, claiming he killed Kem Ley over a $3,000 debt the analyst had failed to pay back.
Kem Ley left behind a pregnant wife and four young sons.
At a funeral ceremony for her husband at Phnom Penh’s Wat Chas pagoda on Tuesday, Bou Rachana, Kem Ley’s widow, said she had been contacted by the Cambodian Australian Federation urging her to move her family to Australia.
“They asked me to go live there,” she said. “I told them I was considering it.”
Ms. Rachana said she had been worried about her safety since her husband’s murder and that she hoped to move her family out of Cambodia soon after the funeral. She said she had not yet decided on the day of the cremation, but that it would not happen before the end of the planned 10-day ceremony.
“I’m not sure when I will be able to go. Maybe when the funeral is over,” she said. “Since this happened, I have feared for my life.”
Ms. Rachana said she was weighing the Australian federation’s offer but was certain she wanted to leave Cambodia.
“I hope an embassy will help me leave the country,” she said.
Ms. Rachana initially told reporters that she was offered the chance to move to Australia by officials from the Australian Embassy in Phnom Penh. But she later corrected the comment and the embassy denied contacting the family about the matter.
“There has been no contact, official or otherwise, between the Australian government and the family of Dr. Kem Ley on this issue,” the embassy said in an email.
The Cambodian Australian Federation, based in Victoria, Australia, could not immediately be reached for comment. Chea Youhorn, a member of the federation, met with Kem Ley during a trip the analyst made to Australia last month.
Australia is home to sizable Cambodian communities, mostly made up of families who fled from the Khmer Rouge and the communist regime that replaced it in 1979.
Opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, a dual Cambodian-Australian citizen, said he was not aware of any plans to move Kem Ley’s family out of the country but noted the case of Chea Vichea.
The popular union leader was shot dead in broad daylight while buying his morning paper at a newsstand next to Wat Langka in 2004. Two men were convicted of the murder in 2005, although both were widely seen as scapegoats of a political assassination and walked free in 2013 after being acquitted. The case remains unsolved.
In the wake of the murder, Chea Vichea’s wife said she feared for her life in Cambodia and later secured asylum in Finland.
“There must be something similar for Kem Ley’s family,” Mr. Chhay said of the family’s prospects of also securing asylum abroad.
The suspected killer’s claim that he shot Kem Ley over a $3,000 debt, as made in a video shot hours after his arrest and published by the Fresh News website, has drawn suspicions of another government cover-up. Kem Ley’s widow has said her husband did not know the man arrested for the crime and never owed money to anyone, let alone thousands of dollars.
Authorities in Siem Reap province have identified the man as 43-year-old Oeuth Ang, a local resident. He initially told police that his name was Chuob Samlab, which translates as “Meet Kill.”
Mr. Ang’s girlfriend, Hoeum Hort, said on Tuesday that she met him in April and that they moved in together the next month. Speaking at their house in Siem Reap’s Angkor Chum district, she said Mr. Ang had recently ended a roughly six-month stint with the Environmental Protection and Development Organization, an NGO, and left for Phnom Penh about 10 days ago, telling her that he was going to meet a close friend.
She said she was shocked to hear of his arrest, adding that Mr. Ang had never mentioned Kem Ley or a debt.
“He didn’t know Kem Ley and he never spoke about Kem Ley,” she said. “I don’t know if he lent any money but I don’t believe it. He didn’t have much money.”
Mr. Ang’s mother, Ek Tab, said she rarely saw her son and had no knowledge of any relationship between him and Kem Ley. She said the murder would have been completely out of character for her son.
“I thought, ‘Why did you do that? When you lived here, you did nothing like that,’” she said of her reaction upon learning her son had been arrested for the murder.
Ly Sophanna, a spokesman for the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, said the suspect was questioned for a second day and might be charged today.
He said the man was questioned without a lawyer—because he did not ask for one—and had furnished authorities with many leads in the case, declining to elaborate.
“We are reviewing the documents in the case file sent from the Phnom Penh municipal police along with answers from the perpetrator and witnesses, and other evidence collected at the scene,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren, Khuon Narim and George Wright)