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Seven Arrested For Commemorating Kem Ley's Assassination

Police officers are seen talking to Cambodian activists having coffee at a convenience store where the late political commentator Kem Ley was killed in 2017, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, July 10, 2019. (Aun Chhengpor/VOA Khmer)

Kem Ley, one of Cambodia’s most prominent and respected political commentators, was gunned down as he had his morning coffee at a gas station in Phnom Penh three years ago this week.

A middle-aged man was arrested and sent to Phnom Penh Municipal Court Wednesday while three other supporters of slain political analyst Kem Ley were also arrested as they were attempting to sell t-shirts with Kem Ley’s portrait and commemorating his assassination’s third anniversary.

According to rights observers, Kung Raiya, 28, a supporter of dissolved opposition CNRP Party, was arrested Tuesday with his wife and two other family members for selling t-shirts with Kem Ley's picture on Facebook to commemorate the assassination of the popular political and social development analyst. However, Kung Raiya’s wife and the two family members were released after signing a contract “not to repeat the same act.”

In a separate anniversary incident, other supporters of Kem Ley were barred from commemorating at the site of his assassination. Brothers Chum Huot and Chum Huor as well as another supporter, identified by rights group as Suong Neakpoan, prepared flowers to put inside a Caltex gas station mart in downtown Phnom Penh, where Kem Ley was killed on July 10, 2016. However, police forces already waiting there were quick to ban the group from doing so and arrested them as they were trying to resist the ban. Around one hundred Kem Ley supporters and rights observers gathered at the site for the third anniversary of his assassination before they were dispersed by police.

“I was not even saying a word and only wanted to pay tribute to Kem Ley's soul, and still we are prohibited,” said Chum Huot, just before his arrest. “It's a grave rights abuse.”

Kem Ley was gunned down just days after making comments about a critical report by London-based Global Witness about corruption linkages of Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling family. A suspect has been arrested and sentenced to life imprisonment.

But on Tuesday twenty-four national and international rights group called for a further and independent investigation.

“They [authorities] don't want the public to see Dr. Kem Ley's image,” said Tim Malay, president of Cambodian Youth Network. “Even flowers and small garlands [that we bring to put to the place of the killing], they confiscated everything because they don't want the public or youth to remember Kem Ley's heroism.”

Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager at local rights group Licadho, said the barrage of the authorities has “affected Cambodia’s image.”