Tens of thousands of Cambodians took to the streets of Phnom Penh on Sunday for the funeral procession of prominent political commentator Kem Ley, who was murdered in a killing many believe was politically motivated.
The procession carrying Mr. Ley’s body started from Wat Chas on schedule at 7am – his body had been lying in Wat Chas for funeral rites since his murder – and the procession wound its way through the capital to Mr. Ley’s final resting place in his hometown in Takeo province, where the outspoken democracy and human rights advocate was born and raised.
The route to Takeo, after leaving the pagoda, went across the Cambodia-Chinese Friendship Bridge and after crossing the bridge, the procession continued on to Monivong Boulevard towards Russian Boulevard and the Choam Chao roundabout. It then proceeded along National Road 3 until it reached its final destination.
Along the way massive numbers of mourners, many wearing the traditional mourning colors of black and white, held portraits of Mr. Ley and photos of him along with Cambodian flags. The procession stretched kilometers behind the Buddhist monks on the truck carrying Mr. Ley’s body.
“Ley was a hero for me. He used to teach me in a workshop. It’s a huge loss to the nation. I would of course follow his footsteps to be a good person and help our country,” said Ya Phau, 33, an Education Ministry official from Kampong Cham province.
A woman who works as a cook stood on the side of one road with tears running down her face. Chhun Pov, 50, who lives in Phnom Penh, told Khmer Times: “I always listened to Kem Ley talking on the radio. To me, he was a dignified man who had a lot of knowledge. I met him during the 2013 opposition protest and then I started to follow him.”
Mr. Ley was gunned down in a broad daylight in a shop in Chamkamorn district in Phnom Penh on July 10 while drinking coffee. The man who shot Mr. Ley was chased and immediately arrested and is now in jail awaiting trial.
Ly Sophanna, a spokesman for the Phnom Penh Municipal court, said on Sunday that the gunman who shot Mr. Ley is still at the municipal police station for further investigation.
Although Prime Minister Hun Sen and other members of the government have condemned the murder, crafting an official stance in support of the political commentator, Mr. Ley had always been unapologetic in voicing his criticism of the establishment.
He also acknowledged the dangers of speaking out against the government and often spoke of what might happen to him because of his criticism.
“I never thought that I was going to live long,” Mr. Ley once said. “One day, I might die or be shot to death. But as long as I live, I will say what the others dare not to. No one can buy me or make me not speak out.”
He left a lasting impression on the people of Cambodia.