Frustration Festers at Kem Ley Ceremony

The 100-day funeral ceremony for political analyst Kem Ley started at Phnom Penh’s Wat Chas on Friday, with his followers lamenting the continued lack of information about the investigation into his murder, calling on authorities to release surveillance footage of the shooting.

Following a week of refusing requests by Kem Ley’s friends and family to hold the three-day ceremony in the capital, the government capitulated on Wednesday, allowing it to take place at the pagoda in Chroy Changva district.

Monks move a statue of Kem Ley during his 100-day funeral ceremony at Phnom Penh's Wat Chas on Friday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Monks move a statue of Kem Ley during his 100-day funeral ceremony at Phnom Penh’s Wat Chas on Friday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Starting at about 8 a.m., hundreds of friends, family, monks and supporters filtered into the pagoda to pay their respects. Around 11 a.m., a life-sized copper statue of the analyst, which authorities banned from being placed in Freedom Park, was paraded onto a stage while monks chanted.

The statue was then presented via video call to his tearful widow, Bou Rachana, who gave birth to his fifth son, Kem Ley Virak, earlier this month. Ms. Rachana fled the country with her sons in late August to seek permanent asylum out of fear for their safety.

“Please remember that Dr. Kem Ley would smile even though he was facing the enemy, and we should be remember and continue as he did,” activist monk But Buntenh announced to the crowd. “Wherever the statue is placed, what matters is our will to respect his honor and his heroism.”

Photographs and paintings of Kem Ley—including one of his bloody corpse on the floor of the Caltex convenience store where he was killed—were displayed inside the ceremonial tent. As of 7 p.m., hundreds of supporters remained at the pagoda, watching videos of the late analyst’s lectures.

Kem Ley was gunned down inside a store in central Phnom Penh on July 10, in what many believe was a politically motivated slaying. Prime Minister Hun Sen has sued opposition leader Sam Rainsy for calling it an act of state terrorism.

A man who identified himself as “Chuop Samlap”—or “Meet Kill” —was promptly arrested and claimed he had killed Kem Ley over a $3,000 debt, though the families of both men have said they did not even know each other. Despite his family identifying the suspect as former soldier Oeuth Ang, officials investigating and prosecuting the case have inexplicably continued to use his alias.

Since the day of the killing, authorities have released almost no information about the case, and have refused to release security camera footage of the shooting, stoking further suspicions among the public over the motive for the murder.

Speaking at the ceremony in the morning, Huy Leang, a villager from Kandal province, said he held out little hope for a full investigation.

“It’s normal. When the case is related to politics, it’s never finished and the truth is never found,” Mr. Leang said. “Please show the video of the scene to see who was involved and what happened.”

Sao Nai, who traveled from Kom­pong Chhnang province, said he had no doubt about why the public was being left in the dark as it mourned the loss of Kem Ley.

“The investigation has taken longer because it’s politically motivated,” he said.

The 100-day ceremony will conclude on Sunday, with the statue to be taken by car to the outskirts of Phnom Penh, after authorities banned a march through the city. Marchers will then carry it to Takeo province, where Kem Ley is to be buried in his mother’s backyard.

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