PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA —
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday opened proceedings against the alleged killer of prominent political commentator Kem Ley, who was fatally shot in Phnom Penh in July.
The accused refers to himself as Choub Somlab, which means “Meet Kill” in Khmer, but has been identified by family members as former soldier and monk Oeut Ang.
During the four-hour hearing, two witnesses appeared before Judge Leang Somnath and testimony from a third witness was read to the court.
The two witnesses in court on Wednesday claimed not to recognize the accused.
Pen Pisey, a barista at the Star Mart in the Caltex gas station where Ley was killed, said Ley was shot while waiting for his coffee.
She said she did not see the face of the shooter, who shot Ley twice before fleeing the scene.
Two security camera video tapes were screened during the hearing. The first showed a man wearing a dark blue shirt and red baseball cap loitering in an aisle before seemingly pulling out a pistol and aiming it at a man wearing a red shirt, similar to the one worn by Ley on the day he died, but whose face was not in frame.
A second clip showed the apparent aftermath of the killing, with the suspect fleeing east along Mao Tse Tung Boulevard, crossing Norodom Boulevard, and heading north on Sothearos Boulevard.
Oeut claims to have shot Ley over a $3,000 debt, while many believe he was hired as an assassin to silence Ley, an outspoken government critic.
Oeut said he had bought the gun, a Glock, from a Thai man named Chork for $1,000.
He has been charged with premeditated murder and use of an illegal firearm. He could face a life sentence if found guilty.
A verdict is due to be announced on March 23.
Yung Phanith, lawyer for the defense, requested leniency on the grounds that Oeut is impoverished and illiterate.
Phanith told reporters after the hearing that as his client had already confessed, “I just request that the judge punish him leniently.”
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager at local rights group Licadho, said the evidence and witness testimony was “insufficient”.
“The important point in relation to the security camera video is still ambiguous, since it does not show every angle of the Star Mart and the moment when Kem Ley was shot.”
“We want to know how Choub Somlab shot him. There might be additional suspects on the scene.”