Prominent Critic’s Killing Raises Political Stakes in Cambodia

Source: VOA News / 12 July 2016 by Luke Hunt

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Cambodian community activists carry a wreath during the funeral procession of government critic Kem Ley in Phnom Penh, July 11, 2016.

The killing of high profile activist and political commentator Kem Ley has shocked Cambodians, angered the opposition, and raised the political stakes in a country with a tragic history of assassinations and an intolerance of dissenting voices.

Hundreds have been jailed and many killed in a difficult peace since the final shots in Cambodia’s long-running civil wars were fired almost 18 years ago, leaving behind a nasty culture of violence. Analysts said Kem Ley’s death symbolizes that culture and the recent crackdown on dissent by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Ley’s death was alarmingly similar to the notorious murder of trade unionist Chea Vichea in 2004 and reminiscent of the 2012 killing of Chut Wutty, an environmentalist shot dead while working with two journalists.

Neither case has been resolved satisfactorily, raising fears the latest high profile murder of a civil society activist would again be blighted by official obfuscation and an unwillingness by the police to challenge authority.

This point was made by John Kirby, spokesman for the U.S. State Department, who said Washington was deeply concerned by the death of the 45-year-old activist.

“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,” he said.

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