The Cambodian-Australian community welcomed the widow and children of murdered political analyst Kem Ley at a ceremony in Melbourne on Saturday, after which they also burned effigies of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
The Leys’ long-awaited arrival in Australia came more than 18 months after Ley was murdered in broad daylight in July of 2016. While the shooter has been sentenced to life in prison, observers say the killing was likely a politically motivated assassination, and despite acknowledging the shooter likely didn’t act alone, officials closed the investigation without making any other arrests.
Ley’s widow, Bou Rachana, said she was moved to tears by the outpouring of support. “I am just so excited and glad that our Cambodian-Australian family gave a very warm welcome to me and my five sons, and I did not expect that before I arrived in Australia,” she said.
“I feel like here is my second home and family . . . I lost my husband, but I didn’t feel lonely anymore when I arrived in Melbourne,” she added. “I felt like I was born again for a new life.”
Cambodian-Australian activist Va Malina said scores of people attended the event, including Australia’s shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus, and prayers were made for Ley’s soul and for his family.
“The other emotional greeting was from an elderly lady – she’s almost 100 years old and she knew Ley through Facebook and she respected Kem Ley so much,” Malina said. “She uses a wheelchair and asked her children to bring her to the pagoda to see Ley’s family, and she cried and hugged the whole family.”
After the ceremony, two effigies bearing the face of Prime Minister Hun Sen were set alight. The move comes days after Hun Sen threatened Australian protesters he would follow them home and “beat” them if they dared to burn his photo during his upcoming visit for the Asean-Australia summit in March.
Australian opposition lawmaker Mark Butler slammed Hun Sen’s remarks and said Australians were “appalled” at the crackdown on democracy in Cambodia, including the arrest of opposition leader Kem Sokha and a series of attacks on free press and civil society.
“I say to Hun Sen and to Cambodian-Australians, the right to peaceful protest – without threats of violence – is a cherished part of Australia’s democracy,” he said in a video posted to Twitter.
“The Australian government must make it clear in no uncertain terms to the Cambodian government how unacceptable these threats are, and how important it is that they be retracted immediately.”
Malina said the Cambodian-Australian Federation had submitted a complaint against Hun Sen to the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and the Australian Federal Police.
Australia’s Foreign Affairs Department did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday or late yesterday, while Cambodian Foreign Ministry spokesman Chum Sounry could not be reached.