Sisophon town authority in Banteay Meanchey province on Tuesday prohibited a group of people from holding a memorial service for slain political analyst Kem Ley, saying the villagers had not submitted a formal request.
Twenty-two people from across the town had planned to commemorate the third anniversary of Ley’s death since the prominent figure was gunned down at a petrol station in Phnom Penh on July 10, 2016.
The service was supposed to be held on Wednesday in the form of a religious ceremony at the house of Suon Sieb, a resident of Prohot village in Sisophon’s O’ Ambel commune, but is now cancelled due to the lack of authorisation from the local government.
Sieb said commune chief Thou Nakry had recently informed him about the refusal.
“He [Nakry] told me to formally seek permission [from the town authority]. Since we haven’t done so, it said we were not allowed to organise the ceremony at my house."
“The event was supposed to take place tomorrow [Wednesday] . . . this means I won’t be able to submit the request in time,” Sieb told The Post on Tuesday.
He stressed that he had decided not to seek permission because he believed that the request would eventually be turned down and the planned ceremony would be interrupted.
Lamenting the prohibition, Sieb said no permission is normally required for a religious ceremony to be held at a private house without loudspeakers.
Commune chief Thou Nakry could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Sisophon town governor Hoel Raya said he could not allow the memorial to proceed as the organisers merely submitted a notification letter at the commune hall.
“[A] notification letter is, in principle, used by the authority to inform the public about something, not the other way around."
“Besides, spreading political messages are prohibited during a ceremony. In other words, we did not ban him as a civilian, we just informed him to comply with the regulations,” Raya added.
Din Puthi, one of the organisers, said such refusal contradicted the fundamental right in a democratic country.
“This is a restriction on [our] rights and freedom to organise a memorial. No one is required to seek permission prior to holding a religious ceremony because it’s part of our culture,” he said.
Soum Chankea, the Adhoc coordinator in Banteay Meanchey province, said he was puzzled that the authority had made formal permission mandatory for a religious ceremony in a democratic country.
“I did not see any political message in the agenda. Restricting the hosting of such events goes against the constitution which ensures freedom for everyone to hold a religious ceremony."
“If it is related to insurrection or creation of a terrorist group, that’s what they should be worried about,” he said.
Ley, 45, was shot twice with a Glock handgun inside a Caltex petrol station cafe three years ago.
After the murder, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court handed down a whole-life jail term to a man named Oeut Ang who confessed to committing the crime. After his arrest on March 1, 2017, Ang gave police the name Chuob Samlab, which means “meet to kill” in Khmer.