Updated: 10:17am, Friday March 23, 2018
Australian authorities on Thursday confirmed they have launched an investigation into a crudely written death threat sent tothe family of slain political analyst Kem Ley and Victoria state MP Hong Lim.
The typed letter, reported to Victoria police last week, is written in the voice of someone purporting to be a member of Cambodia’s political elite.
“Victoria Police has launched an investigation following reports threatening letter was delivered to a man in early March,” Sergeant Cameron Scott said in an email on Thursday, responding to questions about reports of a threat received by a lawmaker and members of the Cambodian-Australian community.
Due to privacy regulations, police declined to respond to questions involving specific individuals.
“As the investigation remains ongoing, it would be inappropriate to comment further,” Scott added.
The letter is addressed to the “contemptible” Hong Lim and family, as well as to Ley’s widow, Bou Rachana, and her family. Rachana and her five sons were recently granted asylum in Melbourne, more than 18 months after Ley was murdered in broad daylight.
The letter is also addressed to the families of Chea Youhorn, mayor of the city of Greater Dandenong and head of the Cambodian Association in the state of Victoria, and local Greater Dandenong City Councillor Tak Meng Heang. Dandenong is a suburb of Melbourne.
The Khmer text in the letter translates to: “I will kill all of your groups. I will shoot dead all of you like Kem Ley.”
Ley, a revered political analyst, was gunned down in a brazen public assassination in July of 2016, just days after he had spoken on the radio about a damning report on the wealth and business interests of the family of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen.
While the shooter was quickly arrested and convicted, his professed motives were questioned by his own family, and even authorities acknowledged he likely did not act alone. Nonetheless, the investigation into the shooting was closed with no further suspects identified, and the killing is widely believed to be politically motivated.
The letter refers to the recipients as “dogs of Australia” – a particularly offensive term in Khmer that echoes recent comments made by Prime Minister Hun Sen about Australian protesters who burned his effigy – and the letter’s author claims to have a wife and children in Australia and the right to come and go at any time.
“Try to stop me and my family,” the letter continues, in English. “We ruled Cambodia for ever. We will win the election 2018. Will stay in power for ever.”
Victoria MP Lim said that he reported the “outrageous” letter to the police and was informed they were taking it “very seriously”.
Cambodian People’s Party spokesman Sok Eysan said despite the reference to winning the upcoming election, the ruling party was not behind the death threat.
“The CPP has never done such a disgraceful thing like that,” he said.
“I think it is just his own disease of being scared of his own shadow,” he said, referring to Lim. “He has done so many ill-intentioned, superstitious things to the honour of Samdech Hun Sen, like burning things, so he is afraid that it [will] reverse to him.”
He accused Lim of trying to use the letter to damage Hun Sen, but said it only posed a burden to the Australian authorities.
“We will cooperate with the Australians for the investigation,” Eysan added.
The death threat follows months of increasingly violent rhetoric from Hun Sen during a heated political crackdown that has seen politicians, journalists and human rights defenders jailed, as well as the forced dissolution of the opposition party – the only party with a fighting chance of unseating the CPP at the July election.
Apart from threatening to beat Australian protesters and calling them “dogs”, Hun Sen also previously threatened to unleash “war” on the opposition and burn down their homes.
Notably, Defence Minister Tea Banh last year warned that if opposition supporters refused to accept election results, they would be beaten “until their teeth come out”.
Hun Sen also said he was willing to “eliminate” hundreds in order to maintain stability, and just Wednesday said that those who opposed him were “building more coffins” for themselves.
Additional reporting by Kong Meta