Friends of Kem Ley say they will go ahead with a 100-day funeral ceremony for the slain political analyst at Phnom Penh’s Wat Chas despite City Hall’s decision on Friday to deny their proposal to use the pagoda.
The municipal government rejected the suggestion from the committee organizing the ceremony days after refusing its first proposal to use the city’s Wat Botum park.
Pa Nguon Teang, a member of the funeral committee, said on Sunday that they will use Wat Chas regardless on October 14 through 16.
“No law lets the authorities ban us, so they did it without legal basis,” he said. “We just informed them that we will hold the ceremony at Wat Chas. Their rejection is their business. They have no power over the pagoda.”
“It depends on the chief monk of the pagoda,” he added. “If the monk and the organizers agree, they can do it.”
Mr. Nguon Teang said a life-size copper statue of Kem Ley, privately commissioned and completed on Friday, would be brought to the ceremony and paraded to the analyst’s home province of Takeo once it was over.
City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada accused the organizers of trying to turn the ceremony for the popular government critic, whose July 10 shooting many believe was a politically motivated hit, into an anti-government event. He said any request should come from Kem Ley’s family.
“We want Kem Ley’s family to initiate the request instead of other people,” he said. “If they are relatives of the deceased, please do it at the home in Takeo province. Why do they need to hold the ceremony in Phnom Penh?”
Mr. Chanyada declined to explain what actions the city might take if the organizers use Wat Chas for the event. He also failed to explain what legal right the government had to ban a pagoda from hosting a traditional religious ceremony.
Kem Ley’s family has split over the plans. His father wants the ceremony to be held in Takeo. His wife, who has fled Cambodia claiming to be afraid for her life, supports the committee’s intentions to use Wat Chas.
The pagoda’s chief monk, Meas Sokhorn, feels caught in the middle.
“This morning the city governor called to tell me to close the gate and not let them hold the ceremony. But if I close the gate it won’t look good because a pagoda is for holding ceremonies, so I have been having a difficult few days,” he said.
Meas Sokhorn said he would meet with the organizers and tell them they were on their own, but would not try to sway them one way or the other.
“They have to take responsibility and I am not getting involved with the ceremony,” he said. “I want to stay neutral because I am under the control of authorities, too.”