National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said on Sunday that footage of the short-lived escape of political analyst Kem Ley’s alleged killer revealed nothing irregular, refuting suggestions made on social media that it shows the suspect and pursuing police officers acting overly familiar.
Filmed from a moving car, the video, which was posted to Facebook on Saturday, shows a two-minute segment of the roughly 30-minute flight of the man who claims his name is Chuop Samlap—or “Meet Kill”—following the fatal shooting of Kem Ley inside a Phnom Penh convenience store on the morning of July 10.
The video also shows a man in civilian clothes—a white shirt and gray pants—pursuing the suspect on a motorbike bearing the National Police logo before stopping alongside him on Sothearos Boulevard. The suspect appears to begin to climb onto the motorbike, before continuing on foot.
He then slows—or stops—behind a parked car, at which point the video is obscured by passing traffic, before again resuming his run. He places what appears to be a handgun on the road while starting to cross, and another man picks it up.
The motorbike driver in civilian clothes then catches up with the suspect, who immediately mounts the vehicle this time. Two other men start to kick and punch him, while the driver unsuccessfully attempts to protect his passenger.
Finally, a uniformed police officer pulls the suspect off the motorbike, pats him down and puts him back on the vehicle—then mounts it himself. The driver starts the motorbike and drives away.
The video was uploaded to Facebook by user Suki Chan, before being shared by the popular Social Breaking News (SBN) page. The original video had been shared about 16,000 times as of Sunday night, while SBN’s post had been shared about 10,000 times.
“In this video, we can see at 23 seconds that Chuop Samlap plans to mount the motorbike with the police, with the policeman riding the bike alone not dismounting to arrest him, but we can’t see the reason why [the suspect] got back off,” SBN’s post said.
“At 55 seconds, there is a man who says, ‘Arrest him, he’s got a plastic gun,’” the post continued. “One thing I’m also wondering is why the police aren’t scared of this guy at all, and are brave enough to ride their motorbike right up alongside the guy?”
Many of those who commented on the video asked the same questions, saying the interactions between the suspect and police were suspicious.
However, General Chantharith, the police spokesman, said the video did not show the entire scene. The suspect cooperated with police, he said, because he was surrounded by both an angry crowd and officers armed with assault rifles.
“If there weren’t AKs, he might have shot us, but our joint forces worked together and were pointing AKs from a distance. In the video, you can’t see the pointed AKs,” he said.
Gen. Chantharith added that police had their own videos of the event, but would not release them to the public until the investigation was finished.
“We are working hard, so please give us time,” he said.
Witnesses to the man’s escape along Mao Tse Toung and Sothearos boulevards have described seeing the man drop his gun after officers drew their rifles—with one man saying he believed that the armed police had come from inside the nearby Russian Embassy.
Authorities have so far offered no information to the public about whether anyone abetted Kem Ley’s killer, who is said to have murdered the analyst inside the convenience store over an outstanding $3,000 debt—a claim that his friends and family have dismissed as farcical.
The suspect has been identified as Oeuth Ang, a 43-year-old former monk and soldier from Siem Reap province, but the Phnom Penh Municipal Court insisted on charging him under his chilling nom de guerre, Chuop Samlap.
Kem Ley had since the 2013 election become an increasingly outspoken critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen—as well as, at times, the opposition CNRP—and said in a number of interviews that his strident commentary could lead to his death.
There have been multiple calls for an independent investigation into the analyst’s death, with many saying that his murder had the hallmarks of past hits on critics of Mr. Hun Sen’s government.
It is not the first time such questions have been raised after the murder of a government critic, with most high-profile killings being marked by impunity and attracting countless claims of official involvement.
Heng Pov, the disgraced former municipal police chief who led an investigation into the 2004 murder of union leader Chea Vichea, claimed in 2006 that police had actively covered up the killing.
In August 2006, the French weekly L’Express published an interview with Mr. Pov—at the time a fugitive in Singapore—in which he claimed that then-National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy orchestrated the arrests of two men as scapegoats in the murder.
Both men spent about five years in prison before being acquitted and released in 2013.
Moeun Tola, head of labor rights group Central and a former close friend of Kem Ley, said on Sunday that the video is only part of the whole story. “There should be videos at the gas station Star Mart so that we know who was the guy who was actually the shooter—but from this video, people have already made some very concrete points,” Mr. Tola said.
“Who is the guy on the motorbike, with the white shirt? It seems he and Chuop Samlap know each other.”
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