Supporters of Kem Ley carried lotus flowers and incense as they came from near and far to mark the first anniversary of the political analyst’s murder.
They gathered in Ang Takop village, in Takeo province’s Leay Bo commune, where a statue of the slain man commemorates his life and contribution to Khmer society.
It was on July 10 last year that Mr Ley stopped for a coffee at a Caltex petrol station on the corner of Monivong and Mao Tse Toung boulevards in Phnom Penh’s Chamkarmorn district.
He was gunned down in broad daylight there by a former soldier who claimed he carried out the murder over an unpaid debt.
Mr Ley’s family and supporters are still demanding justice in the case, despite the alleged killer being jailed for life in March.
CNRP president Kem Sokha and senior party figures attended the ceremony in Takeo yesterday and spoke of how the death of Mr Ley was a loss to the nation.
Mr Sokha recalled how Mr Ley had promoted education for all Khmer people and said the analyst’s ideas of empowering local communities formed the basis of current CNRP policy.
“I am still determined to find justice for Mr Ley and his family. If we do not get justice for him now, then Khmer citizens will continue to demand it in the future,” he said.
“Mr Ley told me face to face that he wanted to see policies to help develop communities. The CNRP adopted a policy to devolve funding to communities, so we are following his advice.”
Speaking in front of Mr Ley’s statue, Lim Mony, one of the Adhoc five who was released on bail two weeks ago, recalled how upset she was to miss his funeral last year.
“I sat in my prison room praying that I would be able to pay my respects on this one year anniversary of his death,” she said.
“I am so lucky that I have the opportunity to be here now. I would like to ask the authorities to do more to investigate his case,” she said.
With his trademark shaved head and dressed in a black T-shirt bearing a photograph of Mr Ley, environmental activist Chum Hour is pessimistic about the prospect of justice for his close friend and mentor, whom he and his twin brother met just hours before his murder.
“I know the government has no desire to find justice for my teacher but I still hope that there will be some resolution in the future for his family,” he alleged.
Mr Hour and his twin brother fled Cambodia in the wake of the murder and were offered asylum abroad, but chose to come home and continue their work.
He said he could not accept the veracity of evidence at the trial of Mr Ley’s killer, arguing the video footage had been doctored.
“If the government wants to find justice for my teacher then they would interview the cleaners, customers and staff at the Caltex station to get the truth,” he said.
“I would like all Cambodian people to keep in mind that even if we don’t find justice for Kem Ley today, we can still get it in the future.”
Standing in front of a photo of her son, Mr Ley’s mother Phauk Se cried as she described the anguish of still not knowing the facts surrounding his death.
Eurth Ang, also known as Choub Samlab or “meet to kill” in Khmer, confessed to killing Mr Ley, but the victim’s mother says there are still many unanswered questions.
“I would like to ask the government to do more to investigate the case and provide justice for my family. I am an old farmer and I cannot find a justice for myself. Please help us,” she said.
Surrounded by a crowd of her son’s supporters, Ms Se vowed to mark the anniversary of his death every year.
“I will do it every year so Cambodian people will remember my son,” she said.
Carrying one of Mr Ley’s books in his hand, 81-year-old Toeuk Phan said he saved up his earnings from selling traditional Khmer medicine to travel from Kampong Chhnang to the event.
He said he wanted to attend because Mr Ley was a Khmer hero.
“He died to speak the truth and help normal people like me to understand the political situation, so as a Khmer, I wanted to attend this anniversary,” he said.
He claimed the court case into the killing was a sham and intended to make it look as if the government was investigating the matter seriously, while failing to present the facts of the situation.
“International investigators should work on the case with Cambodian authorities. Then I think we would get justice,” he said.
During the trial of Mr Ang, court authorities reviewed blurry footage from the CCTV camera at a Star Mart shop showing the killing, plus other video clips from nearby street cameras showing the defendant running from the crime scene through several intersections.
Footage from additional CCTV cameras inside the convenience store was confiscated by police and delivered to court authorities, but inexplicably never shown as evidence.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced Mr Ang to life in prison on charges of premeditated murder and carrying or transporting a weapon without authorisation.
Mr Ang claimed he murdered the activist because Mr Ley took $3,000 from him, promised to build him a home worth $20,000 and give him a job. He said Mr Ley did not follow through on his promise.
However, those claims have been disputed by the families of both men.
Kem Ley’s wife Bou Rachana and their five sons have fled Cambodia for their safety and applied for refugee status with the United Nations.
Ms Rachana has said she is not interested in pursuing the case and has no faith in Cambodia’s courts.
Prime Minister Hun Sen is suing for defamation three people he accuses of suggesting Mr Ley’s murder was planned by the CPP – former opposition leader Sam Rainsy, opposition senator Thak Lany and political analyst Kim Sok.
Mr Rainsy and Mr Lany are both in exile, while Mr Sok is in prison awaiting trial.
On Friday, 164 NGOs and associations sent an open letter to Interior Minister Sar Kheng requesting further investigation into the murder because everything has gone quiet since the Phnom Penh Municipal Court separated the case into two in April.
At the time, deputy court prosecutor Ly Sophana said the second case was to discover who introduced the killer to Mr Ley and how the man obtained a Glock pistol.
The case was split from the original murder trial for the sake of expediency, Mr Sophana said.