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Monks, Youth Activists Blocked from Commemorating Kem Ley’s Death

An overview of political commentator Kem Ley's fourth memorial, Phnom Penh, July 08, 2020. He was assassinated in broad daylight on July 10, 2016. (Khan Sokummono/VOA Khmer)

Youth activists and monks were prevented from commemorating the 4th anniversary of the killing of political commentator Kem Ley on Wednesday at the Caltex gas station in Phnom Penh, where the popular figure was shot.

Chamkarmon District Administration on Tuesday banned any public memorial services in remembrance of Kem Ley, who was shot by Oeut Ang on July 10, 2016, drinking his morning coffee at a Caltex gas station in Phnom Penh.

Youth activists, monks and Kem Ley’s supporters said they would continue with their plans to remember the political commentator, which is expected to last four days, till July 10.

Around 50 mixed security forces tried to prevent Kem Ley’s supporters from conducting a small wreath laying ceremony, and instead slowly pushed them across the street to Monivong Boulevard. The activists and monks were then forced to pray on the street, with dozens of security personnel watching over them.

Security personnel also detained a 34-year-old man named Khan Chanthorn and who was wearing a t-shirt with Kem Ley’s image. He was questioned at Boeung Trabek commune police station before being released later, with Police Chief Hong Chanthen calling it an “invitation” to speak.

“So, he wore a [Kem Ley] t-shirt, we called him to be questioned, and then we ordered him to return. There was nothing,” Hong Chanthen said.

Last year, Kung Raiya, a local activist, was arrested a day before a similar commemoration for Kem Ley for selling t-shirts with the commentator’s picture and popular quotes. He was convicted in May for incitement but had already fled the country.

Khan Chanthorn said multiple police officials questioned him about his reason for attending the service and who paid for his expenses. He said he had known Kem Ley for five years, before the latter’s murder.

“They asked me ‘how much did you get paid to come?’” he said. “They said if I used my time to do business or take care of my wife and children, it will be better. It’s useless to have protest because there is progress in social development.”

Thun Ratha, a member of the environment network Mother Nature Movement, said the police should not have stopped the activists and monks, because their activity was lawful.

“If our act is illegal, you all will not see me speaking. I will be lifted up to put in the police truck. But what I did is legal. It’s 100 percent legal,” he said.

Some of the monks and activists then began a march to Takeo province to Kem Ley’s home, where is a memorial to the political commentator. Kem Ley’s family had to leave the country after his death and were later relocated to Australia.