MELBOURNE - Senior members of Australia’s federal and state parliaments have pledged their support to an asylum claim being filed on behalf of the wife of slain Cambodian political activist Kem Ley.
Ley, an outspoken government critic and popular grassroots activist, was gunned down in broad daylight while drinking his morning coffee in Phnom Penh in July, sparking widespread allegations of a political assassination.
Police quickly arrested a suspect a few blocks away, who confessed he’d committed the murder over a $3,000 debt — a claim that further inflamed public outrage in a country where many consider the legal system a state controlled organ.
At a ceremony Sunday at a Khmer temple in outer Melbourne, marking the 100 day anniversary of his murder, federal shadow attorney general Mark Dreyfus said he would co-sponsor an asylum application for Ley’s family, which is being spearheaded by Victorian State MP Hong Lim — himself an immigrant from Cambodia.
Asked what chance such an asylum claim would have in light of Australia’s diplomatic entanglement with Cambodia through its controversial refugee resettlement agreement with the kingdom, Dreyfus said “I’m sure this will be possible.”
“There’s clearly a tremendous level of support from amongst the Cambodian community,” he said. “She’s got sponsors like Hong Lim, who of course is a member of the state parliament, councilors here from the city of greater Dandenong, people in the federal parliament like myself, who are prepared to extend support.”
Victorian finance and multicultural affairs minister Robin Scott, attorney general Martin Pakula and legislative council president Bruce Atkinson also pledged their support, at the ceremony, to Kem Ley’s family in front of hundreds of members of Melbourne’s Cambodian community.
Hong Lim, the local state representative, said Bou Rachana had already been granted refugee status by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and that an asylum claim was also being put together in the United States.
“We in Australia, although we feel we have special bond with Dr. Kem Ley, we don’t want be seen as stepping over their toes because if they want to sponsor them to America, that’s fine, we support that,” he said.
The UNHCR declined to comment on whether Bou Rachana had been granted refugee status.
Lim said he had contracted the migration law firm Erskine Rodan &Associates to ensure her asylum application was solid.
He also expressed frustration that activist monk But Buntenh, who was scheduled to attend the ceremony in Melbourne, had been denied a visa on the basis of false claims that there were outstanding charges against him other countries.
The Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection told Voice of America that it was aware of the case and that But Buntenh’s application was ongoing, stressing that the standard processing time for a tourist visa was a minimum of four weeks.
Bou Rachana and her four children fled Cambodia in August, fearing for their safety. Last Sunday she gave birth to a fifth son — Kem Ley Virakbot — in exile. Her whereabouts are being kept secret over fears for her safety while her asylum applications go forward.
The 100 day ceremony came just two days after Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s son Hun Manet was met by a crowd of angry protestors from the same Melbourne community as he held a function in the suburb of Clayton.