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Cambodia: Killing of Dr. Kem Ley is yet another attack on freedom of expression

lunes 1 agosto 2016 - 1:00am

London – 1 August 2016

The death of Dr. Kem Ley, a scholar, researcher, writer, independent analyst and advisor to PEN Cambodia, who was killed on 10 July 2016 in Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city, is a deeply disturbing development in the deteriorating climate for freedom of expression in the country, PEN International said today.

A prominent critic of the government, Ley was shot dead at a service station on Phnom Penh’s Monivong Boulevard. While the suspected gunman is reported to have claimed a dispute over money as the motive for the crime, others have regarded it as a political assassination.

Ley worked relentlessly to promote freedom of expression in Cambodia. He was a well-known public figure; his research and findings were shared with the Cambodian general public through reports, short stories, radio talk-shows, television appearances, workshops, and conferences. He was also a valued advisor to PEN Cambodia, offering guidance and mentorship on action plans and project activities, and training young activists fighting for human rights.

Ley – like others fighting for freedom of expression in Cambodia – had received many death threats and was harassed across multiple communication channels.  His last comments on a report entitled ‘Hostile Takeover’ by Global Witness (July 7th, 2016) about how ‘Cambodia’s ruling family are pulling the strings on the economy and amassing vast personal fortunes with extreme consequences for the population’ have been publicly suspected as the main cause of Dr. Ley’s assassination, although the government has denied this suspicion.

Dr. Ley’s passing away has been a heart-breaking loss for all of us in the whole nation, for Cambodians overseas, and for the international organisations and agencies that he used to work with around the world. Dr. Ley’s assassination threatens not only our freedom of expression, but also our lives as independent workers and Cambodians. The oppressive acts of the authoritarian ruling elites creates trauma among the people. The future is uncertain, and people live in fear,’ said Sreang Heng, President of PEN Cambodia.

We pay tribute to the life and work of Dr. Kem Ley, whose death is a huge loss not only to Cambodia, but to our global community of writers. It is deeply worrying that so many of those who speak out in Cambodia in defence of freedom of speech, or in opposition to the government and to human rights abuses, receive death threats and harassment. We call for a prompt and thorough investigation into the death of Dr. Ley, and for those responsible to be brought to justice.  It is essential that those speaking out in defence of freedom of expression in Cambodia are able to do so safely, ’ said Jennifer Clement, President of PEN International.

For further information, please contact Emma Wadsworth-Jones at PEN International, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN. email:, tel: 0044 (0)207 405 0338


Note to editors:

PEN International promotes literature and freedom of expression and is governed by the PEN Charter and the principles it embodies: unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations. Founded in London in 1921, PEN International – PEN’s Secretariat – connects an international community of writers. It is a forum where writers meet freely to discuss their work; it is also a voice speaking out for writers silenced in their own countries. Through Centres in over 100 countries, PEN operates on five continents. PEN International is a non-political organisation which holds Special Consultative Status at the UN and Associate Status at UNESCO. PEN International is a registered charity in England and Wales with registration number 1117088.