Thousands of people yesterday joined the funeral procession marking 100 days since political analyst Kem Ley was shot dead in Phnom Penh, with hundreds more lining the streets along the route to pay their respects.
Yesterday’s procession, markedly different from Ley’s solemn funeral procession in July, was more a celebration of the government critic, with thousands – on motorcycles and piling into cars, tuk-tuks and open trucks – making their way from Chroy Changvar peninsula’s Wat Chas pagoda to Ley’s home in Takeo province.
Hundreds lined the streets in Phnom Penh chanting prayers and waving at the procession, with a few unable to hold back tears as supporters made their way through the city.
The cavalcade centred on a truck carrying a life-size statue of Ley made by Kampong Speu sculptor Sien Kamangdang, which was later placed at Ley’s gravesite. Flanking the vehicle, were other trucks with giant portraits of Ley emblazoned with his now-famous slogan – “Wipe your tears and continue the journey”.
As the procession passed the Royal University of Phnom Penh, Phe Pheany jumped at the sight of Ley’s statue, saying she was there to pay respect to her “instructor”.
“He educated the youth, and his words told us to only love our country,” said Pheany, a recent graduate from Cambodian Mekong University.
City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada said the funeral committee largely adhered to the agreement between to the two parties, and pegged yesterday’s attendance at 600 people. However, committee member Sao Kosal estimated 50,000 people participated in yesterday’s event. Actual attendance was probably closer to 5,000, according to a Post reporter present.
Once the procession passed the Choam Chao roundabout near the airport, it picked up speed and reached Tram Kak district’s Leay Bor commune just before 3pm.There, Ley’s statue was placed near the site of a planned stupa, with supporters flocking to partake in the religious ceremonies.
Conspicuous in their absence were Ley’s immediate family, who fled the country last month citing fears for their safety. Ley’s wife, Bou Rachana, gave birth to the activist’s fifth son abroad earlier this month and tasked his funeral committee with yesterday’s procession.
“It is sad that Kem Ley’s wife and children could not be here, but it is better for their safety if they stay outside the country,” said Sok Khunheang.
On seeing the large crowd, Ley’s 78-year-old mother Phok Se said that she was overwhelmed at the outpouring of love for her son, and only wished his wife and children had been present to witness it.
CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath, who helped bankroll the statue and made multiple requests to place it at Freedom Park, said he hadn’t given up hope of bringing Ley’s statue back to Phnom Penh.
“I still keep my stand to request that Kem Ley’s statue to be located in Phnom Penh,” he said. “I believe if the political circumstances change and the two parties go back to normal [it can happen].”
Authorities have been tight-lipped on the progress of the investigation into Ley’s murder, prompting many to wonder whether it is being pursued in earnest, and with yesterday’s procession bringing an end to the activist’s funeral ceremonies, social analyst Meas Ny said it was possible that the people’s anger at Ley’s death will begin to fade.
However, Ny said civil society groups will not let the “Kem Ley movement” die out, and will continue to engage citizens in the activist’s teachings. “It will be an ongoing movement. We cannot let Kem Ley’s case to be thrown in the water.”
Additional reporting by Bun Sengkong