Kem Ley Murder Trial Set to Start Next Month

The much-anticipated trial of the former soldier accused of murdering Kem Ley, a political analyst and fierce government critic, in broad daylight at a cafe in central Phnom Penh last year will begin on March 1, the presiding judge said on Tuesday.

The court announced that it had closed its investigation in December, but has given no indication of whether the probe made any breakthroughs regarding a killing that has gripped the country, and is believed by many to have been a state-sponsored assassination.

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Thousands of mourners escort the body of slain political analyst Kem Ley through Phnom Penh in July on their way to his hometown in Takeo province last year. (Pring Samrang/Reuters)

Presiding Judge Leang Samnath refused to divulge any further details about the trial on Tuesday, further reinforcing the belief among Kem Ley’s family and friends that the trial would not deliver the justice they are seeking.

“The court will have a public hearing over the death of Kem Ley on March 1,” Judge Samnath said.

“The court will summon all people who are involved to appear for questioning,” he said, declining to comment further.

The murder of the popular pundit, who was shot in the head and chest while sitting in a convenience store with his morning coffee and newspapers, sent shockwaves across the country.

A suspect was swiftly detained after fleeing along Sothearos Boulevard and was paraded in front of the media. The man identified himself as Chuop Samlap, which translates as “Meet Kill,” and claimed he shot Kem Ley over an unpaid debt of $3,000.

It soon emerged that his name was in fact Oeuth Ang, a former soldier and monk who had traveled to the capital from his remote village in Siem Reap province about a week before the murder. The families of both Mr. Ang and Kem Ley said the pair had never met.

Many saw the shooting as a dark return to the political slayings of the past. Prime Minister Hun Sen was quick to condemn the murder.

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The alleged killer, Chuob Samlab, is brought into the Phnom Penh municipal police headquarters during a press conference last year. (Khem Sovannara)

However, the secretive investigation has only stoked suspicion among the public that the murder had political motivations. Information has been withheld from the public, notably the security camera footage from inside the convenience store.

Kem Rithisith, the 47-year-old brother of Kem Ley, said he had not been informed that a trial date had been set but reiterated his belief that Mr. Ang was a hired hitman, and not the mastermind of the murder.

“I still do not believe there is only one person,” he said. “We want the court to show the security camera footage to provide real justice, especially who was behind it to order it.”

But Buntenh, a monk and close friend of Kem Ley, said he had no faith in the courts.

“I don’t have any trust…and I don’t believe the trial will bring a good result—an acceptable way of giving justice to our hero. I don’t think the court and the government is willing to give us justice,” he said.

“I think this process is a kind of delaying tactic to make the Kem Ley lovers calm down, and they are trying to manipulate it to make it seem that they are doing good things so Kem Ley lovers will be silent.”

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