Bou Rachana, widow of slain Cambodian social commentator and government critic Kem Ley, has been granted asylum in Australia, leaving with her five sons from Thailand and arriving in Melbourne on Feb. 17, an Australian lawmaker told RFA's Khmer Service on Monday.
It was unclear shortly before they left whether Bou Rachana's youngest child, a toddler, would be allowed to leave with her, as he was born in Thailand and was not given a birth certificate.
But Australian authorities convinced the Thai government to allow them all to leave together, Hong Lim, a member of Australia's Victoria state legislative assembly, said, speaking to RFA by phone on Feb. 19.
Hong Lim said that he and the Cambodian community in Australia are “thrilled” to welcome Bou Rachana to the country.
"We think that she and her children will have much better lives here than in Cambodia," he said.
Housing and support for the family will now have to be arranged so that Bou Rachana’s children can resume their schooling, Hong Lim said, adding that a welcoming ceremony has been planned for Bou Rachana and her family at a local temple on Saturday, Feb. 24.
Bou Rachana’s husband Kem Ley, a popular political commentator, was gunned down in broad daylight in Phnom Penh on July 10, 2016, 36 hours after discussing on an RFA Khmer call-in show a report by the London-based group Global Witness detailing the wealth of the family of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for 32 years.
Though authorities later charged a former soldier with the murder and sentenced him to life in prison, many in Cambodia did not believe the government’s story that Kem Ley was killed by the man over a debt.
Kem Ley’s body was kept for two weeks at a Buddhist temple before being taken to his home town in Cambodia’s Takeo province on July 24, with hundreds of thousands of mourners and supporters later attending his funeral procession.
Soon after the funeral, and fearing for their safety, Bou Rachana—then pregnant—fled with her children from Cambodia to neighboring Thailand to seek asylum in a third country. They spent over a year and a half in Thailand before being granted permission to settle in Australia.
Reported by Chun Chanboth for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Nareth Muong. Written in English by Richard Finney.