Questions Raised Over Arrested Killer’s Motive in CNRP Activist Murder

4 min read
Sieng Chorath in a confession video released by Phnom Penh military police.

Military police say they caught a man who confessed to killing a CNRP youth activist outside Chroy Changva’s Wat Chas over the weekend, but questions remain over the accused’s motive.

Phnom Penh military police said they arrested Sieng Chorath on Monday after he turned himself in to authorities and confessed to killing Sin Khon, a CNRP youth activist who was living at Wat Chas. The victim suffered wounds on his back and a likely fatal slash to his right leg, which was almost severed.

The military police released a video on their Facebook page on Wednesday that shows Chorath being questioned in a room and recorded on a phone. It then jumps to footage of the accused sitting at a table in a large meeting hall, with table microphones installed and two military police officials seated next to Chorath.

Chorath is emotionless, calm and collected during the interrogation and says he killed Khon because the victim quarreled with his brother over keys to the pagoda, the gate of which was locked Saturday night. He said Khon repeatedly asked for keys to get into the pagoda and would not listen to Chorath or his brother.

“I argued with him. Then I went out with my friends. But when I returned back, I still saw him arguing with my brother,” Chorath says in the video. “After that, I went to my friend’s house to get a knife because I couldn’t stand him arguing with my brother. I decided to stab him around five times.”

Chorath said he didn’t expect Khon to die and fled to Prey Veng province. He added that he had been to prison in 2019 for stealing a tuk-tuk and was released last year.

The video ends with Chorath standing outside the military police office holding the murder weapon and being escorted to a police van.

Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesperson San Sokseyha directed questions to military police spokesperson Eng Hy, who picked up a call only to immediately hang up when a reporter introduced herself.

Sitting outside Wat Chas on Thursday, Sieng Son and Cheang Chorvy, the accused’s father and sister, respectively, denied having any knowledge of the murder or of Chorath’s involvement in the killing. The two were reluctant to speak to journalists.

“Yes, he is my son but I do not know anything,” said Son.

On being pressed about Chorath’s arrest, Son and Chorvy proceeded to relay information they had seen in the military police video announcing the arrest. Son said he would let the law take its course.

“Since my child is wrong, I don’t know how to help him. This case depends on the law,” Son said. “He went to confess, so the court can sentence him.”

Chorvy also repeated details from Chorath’s confession, and mentioned that although there were rumors that her brother had attacked Khon in May, she denied that he had.

Khon was attacked and hit on the head in May by unknown assailants, joining a growing group of former CNRP activists and members who have been victims of beatings. The CNRP says these incidents are politically motivated and are intended to intimidate and scare their supporters in Cambodia.

Chorvy then blamed monks from Wat Chas for locking the gate and that they should have been better at opening the door for residents. “If the lock holder inside came to open [the gate], this would not have happened.”

But, she said, “what my brother admitted to was true because my brother never lies.”

Wat Chas in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva on November 25. (Ananth Baliga/VOD)
Wat Chas in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva on November 25. (Ananth Baliga/VOD)

Srey Nuth, a food vendor next to Wat Chas, said on Sunday that she had seen Khon fall outside her stall and that someone had attacked him. She panicked and ran into her house with her son.

When shown a photograph of Chorath on Thursday, Nuth said she did not see the attacker’s face on Sunday and could not confirm if he was the person who slashed at Khon.

Kong Phalla, a monk at Wat Chas who said Khon was his assistant and disciple, dismissed the locked gate and an argument over a key as Chorath’s motive to kill the CNRP activist.

He said the accused’s confession was “absurd” and reminded him of a similar confession given by slain political commentator Kem Ley’s killer, Oeut Ang.

Ang had claimed that Ley owed him $3,000, and that was why he had shot him point blank at a Caltex gas station in Phnom Penh in 2016. Ley’s family and rights groups have strongly questioned the veracity of Ang’s motive, labeling the murder a political assassination and repeatedly calling for an independent investigation into the case.

Phalla felt similarly about Chorath’s confession, especially his calm demeanor in the video.

“For me, I personally assume that the murderer is being fake. Because in the video, he speaks normally and clearly without nervousness,” he said.

Phalla spoke to VOD anonymously on Sunday because he felt the case was political, but agreed to speak on the record on Thursday.

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