Family members of murdered political analyst Kem Ley conducted a blessing ceremony on Wednesday in Takeo province on the future site of a $170,000 marble memorial stupa, despite the objections of some supporters and the purported wishes of Kem Ley himself.
Kem Ley’s elderly mother, Phok Se, joined his sister, monks and a few extended family members to bless the site in Ms. Se’s backyard in Tram Kak district’s Angtakob village, said Sao Kosal, a member of the stupa committee
The stupa will be 16 meters tall and constructed of marble, rather than the typical brick, as that is what Ms. Se wants, Mr. Kosal said.
“She wanted to have marble, which lasts longer,” he said on Wednesday.
An outspoken social scientist, Kem Ley was gunned down in a Phnom Penh convenience store in July. His funeral procession drew tens, if not hundreds of thousands of mourners who accompanied his body to the village.
The stupa committee has raised $6,000 so far. It expects donors in Cambodia and abroad to contribute the rest, Mr. Kosal said.
Kem Ley’s wife, Bou Rachana, who fled to Thailand with her four sons in August, and later had a fifth, said in a Facebook message on Wednesday that she supported the stupa, but declined further comment.
The $170,000 budget is significantly more than that spent on a memorial to honor slain union leader Chea Vichea, whose 2004 brazen daylight murder has inspired comparisons to Kem Ley. Chea Vichea was honored in 2013 with a 1.68-meter stone statue that cost $7,000, $5,000 of which was donated by the Phnom Penh municipality.
City Hall rejected a proposal in September to build a statue of Kem Ley in Freedom Park, claiming his position did not warrant such public recognition.
Hang Vitou, a member of Kem Ley’s “Khmer for Khmer” advocacy group, said his mentor discouraged his supporters from erecting elaborate memorials.
Kem Ley told the group that “if he was killed or died, he didn’t want us to build a stupa like this,” Mr. Vitou recalled. “He just wanted us to follow his activity” as an example.
But Mr. Vitou said he supported building the stupa anyway to “inspire people and keep his legacy for the next generation.”
However, activist monk But Buntenh, who occasionally traded plans and policy ideas with Kem Ley, said the money would be better spent elsewhere.
“Something that they need to do is develop policy—finding solutions for Cambodia, not doing these kinds of stuff,” he said, adding that the construction of a memorial should be the government’s responsibility.
If the committee “collects money from hard-working people, from poor people, we should do something that benefits them,” he said.