PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A Cambodian court on Thursday has sentenced a man to life in prison for killing prominent government critic Kem Ley last year.
Judge Leang Sam Nath of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court announced the verdict Thursday, finding Oeut Ang guilty of murder and illegal possession of a firearm. Cambodia does not have capital punishment.
Oeut Ang, also known by the pseudonym "Chuob Samlab" or "Meet Kill" has said he shot Kem Ley at a convenience store in the Cambodian capital last July because he failed to repay a debt owed him.
However, there is considerable speculation that he is a scapegoat, and that the killing was politically motivated because of Kem Ley's caustic commentaries about Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government in the country's few remaining independent radio stations and newspapers.
Kem Ley was killed shortly after he spoke on radio about a report alleging that Hun Sen's family had taken advantage of its connections for financial gain.
Tens of thousands of people joined his funeral, not only in sympathy but also to protest against Hun Sen's authoritarian style of rule.
Hun Sen has been in power for three decades, and while maintaining a framework of democracy, tolerates little opposition.
Another political analyst, Kim Sok, was arrested and jailed last month for implying in a broadcast on the Cambodian-language service of U.S.-funded Radio Free Asia that the government was responsible for killing Kem Ley.
Judge Leang Sam Nath said that based on Oeut Ang's confession, the evidence and testimony from witnesses, the court found that Oeut Ang had killed Kem Ley with two shots from a pistol into the head and neck.
Kem Thavy, the older sister of Kem Ley, said she disagreed and urged the government to continue searching for the mastermind and the real killer.
She said by phone from her home in Takeo province that if her brother really was the killer, then the verdict "is very fair and acceptable, but we are still not sure whether or not he is the killer."
Oeut Ang told the court in March that he killed Kem Ley because he was upset over an unpaid loan of $3,000 that the victim allegedly owed him.
But his wife told the media shortly after his arrest that the family "lived from hand to mouth" and that her husband couldn't have lent Kem Ley the money, a huge sum by Cambodian standards.