Following his burial on Monday, slain government critic Kem Ley’s family and former colleagues are grappling with how best to commemorate his life and work.
Kem Rithisith, Ley’s younger brother, said yesterday that he intends to erect a 1.75 metre statue in his Takeo province hometown, as well as a Khmer-style stupa – a dome-shaped Buddhist shrine.
“I’m selecting a modern art style that mixes the Banteay Srey and Longvek eras,” Rithisith said, adding that further developments would be budget dependent.
“We will turn his memorial into a piece of history. We will keep building: a library, a museum, a garden and a coffee shop, because he liked coffee. After that, we’ll move his papers there for young researchers to study.”
Yeng Virak, president of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP), which Ley helped found, said that the party also hopes to build a statue.
“We want to build a big statue in a public area if we can afford it. He’s a hero to us, because he dared to give analysis and provide the people with knowledge,” Virak said, adding that they had yet to decide where the statue should be located.
Social researcher Meas Ny, who also heads Ley’s Khmer Analysis Foundation, said that he believed everyone’s desire to build their own statue was well intentioned. However, he also felt it would be better if all parties discussed a single memorial.
“Many people have talked about building a statue, but the result is that we have not seen a decision on where to build it or who starts it. My understanding is groups from Kem Ley’s foundation, the GDP and his family have plans, but they have not settled on one idea,” Ny said.
“Having different statues built in different places is not a bad idea. His family want to build it in his hometown, that’s a good idea; and another group wants to build it in Phnom Penh or in a restaurant, that’s also a good idea.”
Tim Malay, director of the Cambodian Youth Network and a member of the Kem Ley funeral committee, agreed with Ny that more discussion needed to take place.
“The [funeral] committee and the others who want to build a statue have not discussed it yet,” Malay said. “In principle, there should be more discussion to create an attractive statue that will make people value Kem Ley.”