Tens of thousands attend funeral for killed prominent critic of Cambodia leader

Tens of thousands of Cambodians marched Sunday in the funeral procession for a leading government critic who was fatally shot in an attack that raised suspicion of a political conspiracy. Kem Ley was shot dead in a shop in Phnom Penh on July 10. Police have arrested a suspect and say they believe the motive for the murder was a debt. Government critics in a country with a long record of violent politics believe Kem Ley was killed because of his work as an activist and his political analysis though they say there is no evidence for that. A farm worker who was caught red-handed told police he killed Kem Ley, 45, over a $3,000 loan. However, the suspect’s wife said the family was too poor to lend so much money.

I regarded him as my god because of his bravery, cleverness. His death was as if I had lost something persona.

Chhun Eang, holding Kem Ley’s portrait

Mourners wearing white shirts held small flags, lotus flowers and pictures of Kem Ley, 46, as the procession including motorbikes and cars moved out of the capital to Kem Ley’s home province of Takeo, about 70 km (40 miles) to the south. Anti-riot police were on guard outside government buildings along the route. Human rights group Licadho said the procession was at least 8km (5 miles) long with thousands of people also lining the route. The killing comes at a time of rising political tension between Prime Minister Hun Sen and an opposition hoping to challenge his 30-year grip on power in local elections in 2017 and a general election in 2018.

The assassination of Kem Ley - a calamity in itself - sadly reaffirms the primacy of violence in the politics of Cambodia.

John Coughlan, a researcher at Amnesty International