Just before midday yesterday, following a mix of traditional Chinese and Khmer rites, the body of political analyst Kem Ley was buried behind his family home in Takeo province’s Tram Kak district.
Hundreds of mourners watched on as music from a traditional band’s drums, kong vong (circle of gongs) and roneat (Khmer xylophone) rose and pallbearers lowered the wooden coffin into the raised mound, where a stupa will eventually be built.
After circling the coffin and making offerings, Ley’s wife Bou Rachana said she felt calmer with Ley, who was gunned down in a Phnom Penh gas station on July 10, put to rest, following the 15-day funeral service.
“He rests in peace,” Rachana said.
In a moving speech before the anti-government critic was carried to the burial site, member of the funeral committee Soy Visal paid tribute to Ley, saying his soul would live on through all his supporters.
“It has been many generations already that Khmers have been oppressed, put into silence, frightened and traumatised, but he arrived in time and reminded us all to stand up,” Visal, who is an editor at media outlet Voice of Democracy, said.
“When we recall his words: that if I Kem Ley die, wipe your tears and continue to walk forward, this makes us sob and hurt and great pity touches our hearts. [But] even the people who want to destroy us, we have to help them as well; it means that we help them find the right path.”
Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people on Sunday joined a funeral procession from Phnom Penh’s Wat Chas to Takeo to farewell Ley and celebrate his legacy of speaking out and “telling the truth”, as many put it.
As well as the grief on display, there was a sense of hope among attendees spoken to by the Post that Ley’s death would mark a turning point in Cambodia.
“Now, after his death, I think most people will wake up and stand up for their own rights and country,” said Ley’s friend Lavy Sayumborn, a Cambodian who flew from her home in Australia to attend the service.
Phou Phim, a 64-year-old re-tired teacher from Takeo town, said he hoped Ley’s death would be the catalyst to improve democracy in Cambodia. “He taught people a lot,” Phim said.
Though his alleged killer has claimed he shot the analyst over a debt, many believe Ley’s killing was politically motivated.
Blame was quickly directed at the government, though officials have strenuously denied involvement and vowed to find the “real killer” or “conspiracy” behind the murder.
Speaking at the funeral yesterday, Sok Touch, head of the state’s Royal Academy of Cambodia, said the burden fell on the government to provide justice, though asked that the analyst’s death not be used to “divide” Cambodians.
Boeung Kak land activist Tep Vanny said her group – which this week suspended their “Black Monday” campaign to free several jailed human rights workers in order to attended the funeral – would fight for the truth.
“Our purpose will remain the same . . . but we will add this new case, because we want real justice for him,” Vanny said.
Reached yesterday, government spokesman Phay Siphan pledged the hunt would continue, though, like Prime Minister Hun Sen and other ruling party officials, he cast aspersions on the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, suggesting they had more to gain from Ley’s death.
“We don’t let murderers kill people as they see fit; please let the authorities investigate more,” Siphan said.