The United States and a senior United Nations official have condemned the daylight killing on Sunday of prominent Cambodian political analyst Kem Ley and called for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding his untimely death.
Ley, 45, who was well-known for his trenchant criticism of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government, was fatally shot at a convenience store in the capital where he often stopped for his morning coffee.
His body was taken on Sunday to a pagoda on the outskirts of Phnom Penh where a Buddhist ceremony was held.
A statement from the US State Department posted to the US Embassy in Phnom Penh’s website on Sunday said officials were shocked to learn of Ley’s killing and concerned that a proper investigation into the circumstances of his death be carried out.
“We are deeply saddened and concerned by reports of the tragic killing of prominent Cambodian political commentator Dr. Kem Ley. We offer our sincere and profound condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues,” spokesman John Kirby wrote in the statement. “We are following developments in this case closely, noting the Cambodian government's call for an investigation, and urge that authorities ensure this process be thorough and impartial.”
The US Embassy in Cambodia also sent separate public condolences to Ley’s family.
“The United States stands by the people of Cambodia in this time of sorrow,” read a massage posted to the US Embassy’s Facebook page.
Meanwhile, Maina Kiai, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, on Sunday pointed to Ley’s recent comments on a report by NGO Global Witness that hit a nerve with the ruling family by analyzing their business interests in the Kingdom.
“Highly alarmed at the killing of Cambodian activist and political analyst Kem Ley in Phnom Penh today. Circumstances are plainly suspicious given his standing as a critic of the government and his recent comments in the media about the Global Witness report on the Prime Minister's family’s business empire,” read a message on Kiai’s Facebook page.
The UN envoy also requested an independent investigation be launched.
While also offering his condolences to Ley’s family, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Sunday blamed weak gun controls in the country for the death.
On Monday, during the opening of a military police facility in the capital, he called for patience so that an investigation could be carried out to determine the motives behind the killing and warned opposition political parties against using the tragedy to provoke unrest.
“I hope Cambodians will offer the possibility to authorities to execute a proper investigation, and avoid labeling this tragic issue a political matter, which may worsen the current situation,” Hun Sen said. “I hope political parties would not take this issue for political gain and make any incident that may lead to chaos.”
Since Hun Sen assumed power in a 1997 coup, rights groups estimate that dozens have been disappeared and killed as a result of their opposition to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
One suspect has been arrested in relation to Ley’s killing thus far, a man who identified himself initially as Chuob Samlab, which literally translates to “Meet, Kill”.
In a “confession” video broadcast on a Hun Sen family-owned television station on Sunday, the suspect claimed Ley had owed him $3,000, a claim which his supporters and family said they doubted.
Ley, a longtime political and social development analyst, co-founded the Grassroots Democratic Party in 2014, before taking a back seat and allowing others to lead the party. He is survived by his pregnant wife and four children.