BWI condemns the killing of Cambodian political analyst Kem Ley

The BWI condemns the recent killing of Cambodian political analyst Kem Ley, who was gunned down on the morning of Sunday 10 July 2016. Ley, 46, was shot twice shortly before 9:00am at a petrol station in central Phnom Penh. A suspect arrested nearby confessed to the murder, which he claimed was over an unpaid debt of $3,000, however activists have cast doubt on these parts of the story. Thousands descended on the site of the killing, and a procession brought his body to Wat Chas pagoda, swelling to over 5,000 people by the time it reached its destination. 

The BWI expresses solidarity and extends condolences to his friends and family, particularly the four children and pregnant wife he has left behind. 

A series of unresolved and apparently politically-motivated killings have animated Cambodia’s recent history, according to Cambodian civil society groups. Ley’s name will be added to a list that already includes the tragic and unresolved killing of union leader Chea Vichea in 2004, and the crackdown on the 2014 general strike that left 6 workers dead in Vang Sreng. 

Ley’s murder has occurred amidst heightened political tensions, as the country heads towards 2017 local elections and the 2018 general election. Civil society groups have observed an increase in the use of violence to silence criticism of government and political dissent. 

“Between legislative restrictions on the right to strike and apparently politically-motivated killings, the space available to exercise the rights of freedom of expression and assembly is shrinking,” said BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson. 

Ley was an outspoken government critic and political analyst. In 2014 he founded the grassroots pro-democracy group Khmer for Khmer, and a year later that group had already formed its own political party, the Grassroots Democratic Party (Ley held no role in party leadership). Days before his murder, He spoke to Radio Free Asia about Global Witness’ recent report on the personal wealth that has been amassed by family members and others close to Cambodian Prime Minster Hun Sen, who has ruled the country for 31 years. While Sen has promised a full and thorough investigation into the killing, Sen has stated that the public should not treat the murder as politically-motivated, while also asking ‘who benefited’ from the crime, implicitly casting aspersions on opposition parties. 

“This is clearly a step backwards on Cambodia’s slow walk to democracy, and follows close behind recent repressive measures restricting trade union rights”, continued Yuson. “We wish to add our voice to the multiplicity of civil society voices condemning these actions, and demand a prompt, independent and thorough investigation into Ley’s death. The BWI will continue to support our affiliate as well as the broader civil society movement in Cambodia to restore and strengthen the rights to freedom of expression and association in Cambodia.”