Family members of slain Cambodian environmental activist Chut Wutty on Friday held a Buddhist ceremony to mark the one-year anniversary of his death, calling for the reopening of investigations into his murder and urging authorities to find his “true killer.”
The call came as members of Cambodia’s civil society held a memorial service for the activist in the country’s capital Phnom Penh, appealing to the government to end a “culture of impunity” they say prevented him from receiving justice.
During a ceremony in southern Cambodia's Koh Kong province, Chut Wutty’s brother-in-law, Yong Sokhorn, appealed to authorities to continue the probe into his murder although a private security official was convicted in relation to the case.
“The government must reconsider and reopen the case in order to find the true killer and determine who was behind the killing,” he said, speaking in front of the logging company in Mondul Seima district where Chut Wutty was gunned down last April while investigating illegal logging operations.
Court proceedings on Chut Wutty’s case—the highest-profile death of a Cambodian activist in years—ended in October last year after a court in Koh Kong convicted a logging company’s security chief for the killing of a military officer accused of murdering Chut Wutty.
Timber Green Logging Company security chief Rann Borath was sentenced to two years in prison for the “unintentional murder” of military officer In Rattana, who judges said had fatally shot Chut Wutty.
Chut Wutty’s son, Chhoeuy Odomraksmey, told RFA’s Khmer Service that the convicted security chief is only in prison as a “scapegoat” in the incident.
He said his family wants “justice” and urged authorities to put “the real killer” behind bars.
“The court must summon all suspects, including military officers and soldiers who were stationed in the area, to be questioned,” said Chhoeuy Odomraksmey, who is now the director of his father's NGO, the Natural Resource Protection Group.
“We can’t allow [an unjust verdict] to stand,” he said.
Chhoeuy Odomraksmey also appealed to the people of Cambodia for assistance in funding his NGOs, saying that after his father’s death, forest crimes had increased.
Rights groups weigh in
Conflicting accounts of the deaths of Chut Wutty and In Rattana sparked accusations of a government cover-up of the murder.
The case was decried as unfair and unjust by rights groups which alleged the authorities had “intentionally” closed off examination into the activist’s death by placing the blame on a dead man.
The Geneva-based World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) on Friday also expressed “deep concern about the lack of significant progress in the investigation into his murder.”
“We strongly condemn the prevailing impunity in Mr. Chut Wutty’s murder, and we urge the Cambodian authorities to finally establish the full truth and bring to justice all those responsible,” said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock.
“The authorities of Cambodia should also ensure in all circumstances that defenders of economic, social, and cultural rights are able to work without any fear of reprisals,” added FIDH President Souhayr Belhassen.
Phnom Penh memorial
Also on Friday, a group of nongovernmental organizations held a commemoration ceremony for Chut Wutty in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, calling for the investigation into his death to be reopened.
Cambodian Food and Service Workers' Federation president Sar Mora said the government must “end its culture of impunity” and “provide justice” to Chut Wutty and his family.
“Chut Wutty tried his best to protect the forest, but he was killed for his efforts. This is very unjust,” he said.
“We urge the government to provide Chut Wutty with justice and to encourage people to remember him.”
The government has so far not responded to appeals on the activist’s behalf.
On the day he was found murdered, Chut Wutty had been leading two journalists to see what he believed were illegal logging activities near a Chinese-built dam in Koh Kong.
The activist had also been involved in organizing communities around Cambodia to protect forests from land grabs and illegal logging and had campaigned against the government's granting of land concessions in national parks and wildlife sanctuaries.
Four months after Chut Wutty’s death, Hang Serei Oudom, a journalist who had exposed illegal logging and forest crimes involving local elites in Ratanakiri province, was found dead in the trunk of his car.
Authorities have arrested a military police officer and his wife as suspects in the case.
Reported by Uon Chhin for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.