A provincial court in Cambodia has filed charges of premeditated murder against a military police officer and his wife over the death of an investigative journalist, according to a court official.
The reporter, Hang Serei Oudom, was looking into claims of illegal logging and extortion when he went missing on Sept. 10. His battered body was found two days later in the trunk of his car.
Military officer An Bunheng and his wife, known by her nickname “Vy,” 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 Ratanakiri province.
“The Ratanakiri court on Sunday charged two suspects—An Bunheng and his wife Sim Vy—with the premeditated murder of local journalist Hang Serei Oudom,” investigating judge Luch Lao told RFA’s Khmer service.
The charges were filed following a 48-hour period of questioning by police, Lao said, adding that he has ordered the couple to be detained pending trial and that the court’s investigation of the crime is ongoing.
Call for investigation
In a statement last week, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) called for a “thorough investigation” into Oudom’s death.
The group noted in its Sept. 13 statement that the journalist had written about “rich and influential people,” including businessmen and provincial officials involved in the trafficking of luxury wood in Ratanakiri, and that his colleagues had told him “they were concerned for his safety” in the days before he disappeared.
Authorities found Oudom’s body about a week after he published an article accusing a local military police officer of extorting money from an illegal logger in the area and of using military vehicles to transport illegal timber.
Police said the journalist had apparently died from a series of axe blows to the head.
Speaking to reporters at her son’s funeral on Saturday, Oudom’s mother Keo Sovann appealed for justice for her murdered son.
“He left behind an elderly mother and a pregnant wife,” Sovann said. “I am appealing to the government and to [Cambodia’s prime minister] Samdech Hun Sen to help us.”
Separate complaint filed
The Cambodian rights group Adhoc has provided a lawyer to help the victim’s family file a separate legal complaint against the suspects and any accomplices whose identities may later come to light, Ny Chakriya, the head of Adhoc’s investigating unit, said.
The complaint was filed on Tuesday, Oudom's mother told RFA.
RSF ranked Cambodia 117th out of 179 countries in its most recent annual press freedom index.
“Cambodian journalists, bloggers and cyber-activists who draw attention to environmental problems, especially deforestation, are frequently targeted by the people they try to expose,” the group said.
In April, environmental activist Chut Wutty was shot and killed while he accompanied two reporters from the Cambodia Daily to investigate illegal logging claims in a protected forest region.
A security guard from a logging company was charged with the shooting, but conflicting accounts given by authorities about the circumstances surrounding the death have prompted calls by rights groups for a thorough investigation.
Reported by Sok Ratha for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.