Authorities bring military officer An Bunheng and his wife to court to face murder charges, Sept. 16, 2012. RFA
A Cambodian provincial court today dropped charges against a military
police officer and his wife accused of murdering a reporter
investigating the country’s illegal timber trade, drawing protests from
the journalist’s wife and from human rights and environmental advocacy
Hang Serei Oudom, a reporter for the Vorakchun Khmer
newspaper, had been looking into claims of illegal logging and
extortion when he went missing on Sept. 10, 2012. His battered body was
found two days later in the trunk of his car.
captain An Bunheng and his wife were taken into custody the next day
after police and a court prosecutor said they had found evidence linking
them to the crime at the couple’s restaurant in Cambodia’s northeastern
After questioning three witnesses and reviewing written statements
from another seven, the Ratanakiri Provincial Court dropped all charges
against the pair, citing a lack of evidence sufficient to win a
conviction against them.
Hang Serei Oudom’s last article before his death was published on
Sept. 6, 2012 and accused the son of a local military police commander
of involvement in illegal logging.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer Service today, Hang Serei Oudom’s wife Im
Chanthy protested the court’s ruling, calling it “very unjust.”
the court says it has evidence, and now they claim they don’t,” Im
Chanthy said. “Please help me. There is no law in Cambodia.”
lawyer Heng Sotheara meanwhile applauded the verdict freeing his
clients, while deputy prosecutor Chea Sopheak said he had not yet
decided whether to appeal the court’s ruling.
Rights groups had called for a
thorough investigation into Hang Serei Oudom’s death, noting that the
journalist had written about influential people, including businessmen
and provincial officials involved in the trafficking of luxury wood.
a statement Wednesday, the Club of Cambodian Journalists condemned the
court’s verdict and urged authorities to “reinvestigate the case in
order to provide justice to the victim and his family.”
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) meanwhile noted that the
Ratanakiri court had refused in initial proceedings last year to examine
the link between Hang Serei Oudom’s death and his reporting on illegal
And though the court’s investigation was reopened in
April after briefly being closed, “no further evidence was collected,”
CCHR said on Wednesday.
“The Cambodian justice system has yet
again failed those who risk their lives to defend their rights and
protect the country’s rapidly vanishing forests,” the London-based
environmental advocacy group Global Witness said, calling the court’s
ruling an example of Cambodia’s “shocking culture of impunity.”
the support of Cambodian authorities and the courts, “environmental
defenders like Hang Serei Oudom will continue to be killed and some of
Asia’s last remaining intact forests will be gone,” Global Witness