City Hall on Thursday rejected a proposal by a CNRP lawmaker to erect a statue of Kem Ley at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, claiming that the slain political commentator did not fit the criteria required to justify a memorial in any public place in the capital.
Kem Ley was gunned down in a Phnom Penh convenience store on July 10 in what many believe was a state-sponsored hit, a claim the government has rebuffed.
Since last month, Ou Chanrath, an opposition lawmaker from Takeo province, has attempted to persuade municipal authorities to allow a statue of the popular government critic at the park.
However, a statement signed by Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong on Thursday stated that the proposal had been rejected.
“I would like to inform Your Excellency that in relation to your request to erect a statue of Mr. Kem Ley at the Freedom Park, the Phnom Penh municipality will not allow it because Freedom Park was created with the aim of giving a place for people to express themselves only,” the statement said.
“The Phnom Penh municipality thinks that in the past many of our people, especially civil servants and veterans, have made big sacrifices for the cause of independence…without the building of an individual statue,” it said.
“Any request for an individual statue in a public place needs to fulfil the complete and proper criteria.”
Mr. Chanrath said the decision was unfortunate and was likely a reflection of the government’s perception of the statue as a politically charged statement.
“I feel disappointed at this denial and the disappointment is not just mine alone. There must be millions of other Khmer people who feel disappointed,” Mr. Chanrath said.
“I think perhaps the Phnom Penh municipality and governor think that it is related to politics and that the opposition party will be gaining a benefit,” he said.
The life-sized, copper statue is being crafted by an artist in Kompong Speu province. Mr. Chanrath said he would pass it along to Kem Ley’s funeral committee next month and allow its members to decide where it would be placed, perhaps in his home province of Takeo.
Kem Ley’s brother, Kem Rithisith, said he had not been informed of the decision, but was not surprised.
“For the refusal, we have nothing to oppose. As I said before, it was impossible because we are not civil servants or the people who have the honor among the civil servants. We only have the honor among the public,” Mr. Rithisith said.
“If we got approval, we would have been happy, but we thought it was impossible,” he said, adding he supported it being displayed in Takeo.
After the proposal to put the statue in Freedom Park was first floated last month, a group of army veterans and serving generals threatened to remove a public statue of Kem Ley if it went up, claiming that the government critic had not sacrificed his life for the country in the same way as dead soldiers for whom there was no memorial.