District Guards Block Kem Ley Commemoration at Caltex

As more than a thousand people turned out to commemorate the death of slain political analyst Kem Ley in Takeo province on Sunday, the one-year anniversary of his death was marked quietly in Phnom Penh, where authorities prevented a small ceremony from being held at the site where the murder took place.

Two separate groups of people gathered during the morning at the Caltex gas station—where Kem Ley was gunned down while drinking coffee a year ago today—but were prevented from holding a traditional Buddhist ceremony by dozens of district security guards and police officers.

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Chamkar Mon district security guards sit outside the Caltex gas station where political analyst Kem Ley was shot one year ago to stop supporters from holding ceremonies there on Sunday. (Hannah Hawkins/The Cambodia Daily)

Despite it being private property, authorities said the supporters still needed permission from City Hall to hold a ceremony there.

About 10 young people wearing T-shirts sporting Kem Ley’s face and the words “I died for the nation” arrived at about 8:30 a.m. But about 40 Chamkar Mon district security guards and police officers, who roamed the premises, made them pray in silence inside the gas station’s cafe. Four members of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation arrived shortly after and had their lotus flowers and commemorative photographs confiscated.

“We just asked for five minutes to hold a ceremony, but they prevented us,” said Ou Tep Phalin, the union’s deputy president. Ms. Tep Phalin said she did not inform authorities of the ceremony because Caltex staff had given her permission to hold it. The activists resigned to drinking coffee inside instead, she said.

City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said the station was not a suitable place for ceremonies.

“It’s not a memorial stupa or place to store the statues where you are able to put the flowers,” he said.

In Sen Sok district, the Grassroots Democracy Party celebrated the life of its founding father with about 50 of its members.

“As we are still alive, we are going to continue finding justice for the late Kem Ley,” said party president Yeng Virak.

He echoed popular suspicions that the man sentenced to life in prison for the murder, apparently over an unpaid debt, was simply a scapegoat.

“Kem Ley died because he was a social observer—actively criticized society and politics,” he said.

Mr. Virak said the party was looking for a site to install a statue of their idol “to remind Cambodians of his heroism.”

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