Ceremony at Caltex Marks Kem Ley Murder Anniversary

About 30 human rights activists on Monday commemorated the anniversary of political analyst Kem Ley’s death at the Phnom Penh gas station where he was gunned down in broad daylight exactly a year earlier.

Emotional supporters dressed in black held sticks of incense while prominent activist monk Luon Sovath led a blessing ceremony and prayed for justice for the slain commentator and his family. The morning gathering was just meters from where Kem Ley was shot at point-blank range inside the Caltex station’s cafe.

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Members of civil society groups commemorate the one-year anniversary of Kem Ley’s death on Monday outside the Phnom Penh Caltex station where he was murdered. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

The shooter, Oeuth Ang, was sentenced to life in prison in March, and an investigation into two alleged accomplices is ongoing. However, police have not released any further information about the case since, and there remains widespread public suspicion that the killing was a government-sponsored hit.

At the memorial on Monday, Naly Pilorge, deputy director of advocacy for rights group Licadho, said Caltex’s parent company should lobby the government to release raw footage of the murder. The company, U.S.-based Chevron, has maintained that it handed over all related recordings to authorities last year and did not possess any other copies.

Chevron “should be negotiating with the government to release the footage because it is with them. It doesn’t necessarily belong to the government,” Ms. Pilorge said.

“He was a public figure—he influenced, he encouraged people, so he becomes a public icon, so the government has an obligation to reveal the answer,” she said.

On Sunday morning, about 40 Chamkar Mon district security guards and police officers broke up two small groups of mourners at the gas station. On Monday, however, only a handful of guards turned up toward the end of the outdoor ceremony.

City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said authorities had not been informed of the event in time and were therefore unable to stop the activities.

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Members of civil society groups attend a Buddhist blessing ceremony outside a Phnom Penh Caltex station on Monday to commemorate one year since political analyst Kem Ley was murdered there. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“I was not informed of the event at all,” he said. “Any form of gathering, either with a small amount of participants or large, we need to be informed, even if it is a religious ceremony.”

Mr. Measpheakdey argued that the scene of the murder was not an appropriate location for a ceremony.

“They should have celebrated at other suitable sites like those of Buddhist temples, or his [Kem Ley’s] home village,” he said. “Why didn’t they organize it there?”

On Sunday, more than a thousand supporters gathered at Kem Ley’s childhood home in Takeo province, where CNRP officials, including president Kem Sokha, joined the throngs to pay their respects.

Luon Sovath, the monk who led on Monday blessings, said a Buddhist ceremony needed to be held where Kem Ley died.

A long-time human rights activist himself, Luon Sovath said he was not afraid to continue to publicly criticize the government in the face of ongoing threats and intimidation of critics, even as Kem Ley’s murder appeared to put a chill on political discourse.

“In Buddhism, we can’t avoid death, and I am not afraid of it,” he said. “I am going to continue to say what is right.”

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