As slain political commentator Kem Ley’s memorial service wound down at his family home in Takeo province yesterday, around 50 civil society members and unionists held a short prayer ceremony at the Caltex petrol station where he was gunned down last year, a day after a similar gathering was met by around 40 district security guards.
On Sunday, Kem Ley supporters attempted to place a photo of the popular commentator at the site of his murder, but were prevented from doing so by Chamkarmon district security guards, who took away a framed photo of Ley held by food worker unionist Ou Tepphalin.
However, yesterday, staffers from rights group Licadho, housing rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut and members of the Cambodian Food and Service Workers’ Federation were able to perform a prayer ceremony outside the station’s Star Mart, where Ley frequently drank his morning coffee.
Around 20 security guards and police officers were stationed nearby but did not intervene in the proceedings.
“[Sunday] they stopped us and that is a restriction of the right to assembly and expression,” said Tepphalin. “[Yesterday] we paid respects [to Kem Ley], and they can see that there was no violence here.”
In Takeo, Ley’s brother Kem Rithisith said the turnout was smaller than on Sunday – the first day of the memorial – but he was still pleased to see his brother’s legacy remaining strong a year after his death.
“We are happy that many people from all walks of life come to participate on his anniversary to commemorate his death,” he said.
On Sunday, more than 1,000 people across the country paid their respects to the popular analyst, including opposition leader Kem Sokha and party officials.
A coalition of 164 rights groups marked the occasion with the release of an open letter on Friday asking for an independent and impartial investigation into the Ley killing. It called for a thorough exploration into two possible accomplices of Ley’s killer, Ouet Ang, who was sentenced to life in prison in March. Though Ang was given a life sentence for the murder, many – including some authorities – suspect he did not act alone, but an opaque investigation into the killing yielded few leads.
Reacting to the letter, Justice Ministry spokesman Kim Santepheap took to his Facebook page to defend the court’s proceedings, adding that details of the investigation could not be made public.
“The court’s continued investigation procedures cannot [be] disseminated in public because it [will] impact the secrecy of the investigation,” he said.
For Licadho’s Naly Pilorge, Ley’s high-profile murder calls for more transparency. “Ley’s death and work were in the public domain,” she said. “The burden is on the government to provide answers about the investigation and follow-up.”
This sentiment was shared by Vuth Thean, who attended the Caltex prayer ceremony, and argued that the government had nothing to lose from conducting a transparent investigation, the absence of which only raised more questions.
“The government treated the case as very straightforward without following international and national standards that we can trust,” he said.