Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Thousands fill streets of Phnom Penh to bid farewell to Kem Ley

Thousands fill streets of Phnom Penh to bid farewell to Kem Ley

Thousands of people gather on Phnom Penh’s Monivong Boulevard yesterday morning to pay their respects to slain political analyst Kem Ley.
Thousands of people gather on Phnom Penh’s Monivong Boulevard yesterday morning to pay their respects to slain political analyst Kem Ley. Hong Menea

Thousands fill streets of Phnom Penh to bid farewell to Kem Ley

As the sun rose over Wat Chas in the capital’s Chroy Changvar district yesterday, the body of Kem Ley, encased in a glass casket and draped with a Cambodian flag, began its final journey.

Tens of thousands of Cambodians took to the streets to pay their respects to the slain political analyst as his funeral procession slowly rolled from the capital to his home province of Takeo, where he is expected to be buried today, according to his wife.

Ley was shot twice at close range while drinking his morning coffee at a petrol station in Phnom Penh on July 10.

“He was a person who dared to expose the truth,” said 28-year-old volunteer Neang Sinen, just before the analyst’s body departed the pagoda at about 6:45am in a truck converted into an elaborate wood-panelled hearse.

“This is why many people come here to join and share our regret. We’ve lost an important person.”

Preceded by several trucks carrying white parasols, a traditional band, huge posters of the anti-government critic and scores of monks, the convoy was surrounded by throngs of motorbikes, cars and tuk-tuks, which filled the street, flooded onto Chroy Changvar Bridge and spilled through thousands of onlookers waiting on the other side.

The casket containing the body of slain political activist Kem Ley is loaded onto a vehicle early yesterday morning at Wat Chas in Chroy Changvar district.
The casket containing the body of slain political activist Kem Ley is loaded onto a vehicle early yesterday morning at Wat Chas in Chroy Changvar district. Pha Lina

As the convoy passed along Monivong and then on to Russian Boulevard, thousands more lined the streets, waving Cambodian flags, holding pictures of Ley or readying their camera phones as they waited for his body to pass.

With tears in his eyes, Aom Dara, 35, waited near the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

“He is the most important guy in Cambodia, the reason is because he speaks out about what is black and what is white,” Dara, a factory worker and translator, said.

“Freedom is when people speak, and he was an example for us.”

But for the sound of Buddhist prayers, traditional music and scores on foot chanting, any distinction between the formal procession and the thousands of motorbikes, cars, vans and trucks who joined them as they headed to Takeo was quickly lost.

By the time the carriage reached Phnom Penh International Airport at about 11am, Russian Boulevard had become a sea of every vehicle imaginable stretching for kilometres in both directions.

“He was the one who spread the knowledge, did research and analysis about Cambodia’s development,” said 28-year-old IT worker Pitou Chan, who waited more than three hours near the airport to watch the procession.

In pictures: The funeral procession of Kem Ley

“There are a lot who hold PhDs in this country, but they curry favour with the government and they will not share the reality, but he is the one who stood up and shared the truth.”

Though the alleged gunman, arrested soon after, claimed Ley owed him money, many – including the suspect’s family – say they don’t believe his “confession”, with Ley’s criticism of the government, political work and high profile leading to a prevailing view that his killing was a political assassination.

Responding to accusations of government involvement – levelled directly by Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Sam Rainsy and chanted by mourners at the crime scene – the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and prime minister quickly condemned the killing and even sought to suggest the opposition party was to blame.

As the procession made its way through the provinces, villagers lined both sides of National Road 3. Thousands of motorists held flags aloft. Many wore T-shirts printed with Ley’s face and his familiar slogans, such as “wipe your tears and continue the journey”.

“We demand justice,” read others, reflecting an extreme cynicism surrounding the current investigation by Cambodian authorities.

Bou Rachana, Kem Ley’s wife, holds a portrait of her late husband as the funeral procession makes its way through Phnom Penh yesterday morning.
Bou Rachana, Kem Ley’s wife, holds a portrait of her late husband as the funeral procession makes its way through Phnom Penh yesterday morning. Pha Lina

When the casket reached Ley’s family home in Tram Kak district’s Leay Bor commune in the early evening, 32-year-old garment worker Khim Srey Teang was among the mourners taking their seats under the marquee.

Scores more flocked to the casket, resting in what was once Ley’s front courtyard.

“He was a straight talker,” Srey Teang said, saying she doubted “the real killer” would be caught after referring to other cases where government involvement was suspected.

“In all the previous deaths, they have not found out who the killer is.”

Sitting in the family’s four-room home, its corners stuffed with reports and walls decorated with Angkorian-style carvings, Ley’s wife, Bou Rachana, who has publicly acknowledged a desire to seek asylum abroad for her and her children, had a simple request.

“I just want to ask for my family’s safety,” she said.

Additional reporting by Chhay Channyda

MOST VIEWED

  • Research key to Kanitha’s rep for expertise

    Sok Kanitha is used to weighing in on controversial issues using a confident approach that signals expertise and authority, and a recent video she made was no exception. Her “Episode 342: The History of NATO” video went live on January 16, 2023 and immediately shot to 30,000 likes and 3,500

  • Cambodia maintains 'Kun Khmer' stance despite Thailand’s boycott threat

    Cambodia has taken the position that it will use the term "Kun Khmer" to refer to the sport of kickboxing at the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, and has removed the term Muay from all references to the sport. Despite strong reactions from the Thai

  • Knockout! Kun Khmer replaces ‘Muay’ for Phnom Penh Games

    Cambodia has decided to officially remove the word Muay from the programme of the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games 2023 in May. “Kun Khmer” will instead be used to represent the Southeast Asian sport of kickboxing, in accordance with the wishes of the Cambodian people. Vath

  • Artificial insemination takes herd from 7 to 700

    Some farms breed local cows or even import bulls from a broad for the purpose of breeding heavier livestock for meat production. One Tbong Khnum farmer has found a more efficient way. Hout Leang employs artificial insemination to fertilise local cows. Thanks to imported “straws”

  • New int’l airport nearly half complete as travel industry returns to life

    Construction of a new airport that is slated to serve the capital has passed the 43 per cent completion mark, raising prospects for a proper recovery in the civil aviation and tourism sectors as international travellers return to the Kingdom in increasingly large numbers. The figure

  • Chinese group tours return to Cambodia starting Feb 6

    Cambodia is among 20 countries selected by Beijing for a pilot programme allowing travel agencies to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens, following a three-year ban. As the days tick down until the programme kicks off on February 6,