Rainsy Defends Murder Claim After Lawsuit

CNRP President Sam Rainsy on Tuesday stood by his claims that the government was behind political analyst Kem Ley’s murder, even after Prime Minister Hun Sen filed a lawsuit on Monday accusing Mr. Rainsy of incitement and defamation over the accusation.

The opposition leader, who is in self-imposed exile to avoid a prison sentence stemming from a previous defamation and incitement case, had used his Facebook page to accuse the government of orchestrating Kem Ley’s July 10 assassination and others like it in the past.

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

“I stand by the above comment because there is no other explanation for this series of political assassinations,” he said in an email. “My belief is based on the target and pattern [of] similarities that characterized these assassinations and on the fact that only the government had the means and the capacities to conduct such brazen attacks, to arrange for their cover-up and to ensure a total impunity for the perpetrators and their mastermind.”

Many have compared Kem Ley’s shooting to the 2004 assassination of union leader Chea Vichea—which has yet to be solved—and the 2012 killing of environmental activist Chut Wutty, whose shooting was officially pinned on a military police officer who was, in turn, fatally shot by another officer by accident.

The perpetrators of a 1997 grenade attack on an opposition rally that killed at least 16 people in Phnom Penh have never been caught either.

“All the persons assassinated—or targeted in the case of the 1997 grenade attack—were among the staunchest government critics, representing at different times a most serious threat for the government and the ruling party,” Mr. Rainsy said on Tuesday.

“If the government wants to refute or to deflect my accusations, why don’t they accept an independent and credible investigation, with international participation, into these shocking assassinations.”

Mr. Hun Sen has publicly denied playing any part in Kem Ley’s murder, although many Cambodians still believe the popular political commentator was targeted because of his criticism of the government and ruling elite.

Mr. Rainsy was sued along with Sam Rainsy Party Senator Thak Lany, who allegedly accused Mr. Hun Sen of masterminding the hit during a speech on Friday.

On Tuesday, during a ceremony to inaugurate a new stretch of highway in Kompong Speu province, Mr. Hun Sen suggested that the senator tried to flee Cambodia on Sunday through the Poipet International Checkpoint in Banteay Meanchey province.

“As far as I know, she attempted to leave through Poipet. Don’t walk through or you will be arrested,” he said. “Don’t do it; you have to confront it.”

“A number of people have checked me, and I have checked back,” said the premier, an avid chess player. “Now the case is in court.”

Mr. Hun Sen did not explain what prevented the senator from crossing into Thailand, and Ms. Lany could not be reached.

Teav Vannol, the acting president of the Sam Rainsy Party, said he had not heard from Ms. Lany over the past few days and had been unable to reach her himself.

“So I have no idea where she is,” he said. “I have no opinion about this, so I can’t say if she is in hiding or not.”

On Sunday, Ms. Lany claimed that she did not accuse Mr. Hun Sen of having Kem Ley murdered, and that the audio track from the video in which she is heard doing so had been edited.

Sok Sam Oeun, a prominent human rights lawyer, said he could see no legal grounds for arresting the senator for trying to leave Cambodia at this stage.

The crime of defamation carries only a fine and could not be used to throw her in jail, he said. Although incitement does carry a possible jail term, he added, authorities could not arrest her “unless her immunity is removed, because otherwise what is [the point of] immunity?”

As a senator, Ms. Lany enjoys legal immunity, but the government has made controversial use of an exception for anyone caught “in flagrante delicto,” or in the act of committing a crime, to arrest two opposition lawmakers in the past year.

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