A Cambodian military officer and his wife will stand trial for the murder of a journalist who had exposed corruption among local elites, following the conclusion of a court probe into facts surrounding the case, according to an investigating judge.
The decision, announced last week, was disputed by the lawyer representing the family of Hang Serei Oudom, who had worked as reporter for the Virakchum Khmer Daily newspaper and exposed illegal logging in Ratanakiri province.
He was found beaten to death in the trunk of his car at a cashew plantation days after he went missing on Sept. 10.
Speaking to RFA’s Khmer service on Monday, lawyer Hok Phalla declared himself unhappy with the investigation because others involved in the murder had never been questioned by the judge.
“The victim’s relatives told the court about a few other suspects who had been looking for revenge, but the judge didn’t question them,” Hok Phalla said.
Luch Lao, an investigating judge in the Ratanakiri provincial court, said last Tuesday that military officer An Bunheng and his wife Sim Srevey, known by her nickname “Vy,” would stand trial in the murder of the 42-year-old reporter following the conclusion of the probe in November.
Luch Lao said the two suspects will be detained pending trial, for which no date has been set.
In a Sept. 6 article, Hang Serei Oudom had accused the son of the Voen Sai district military police chief of smuggling logs in military-plated vehicles and extorting money from others who were illegally transporting wood.
Pen Bonna, provincial coordinator for the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), echoed the family’s concerns about the scope of the investigation.
“According to the evidence and to witnesses, the murder must have involved senior military officers in the province,” he said in November, adding that the court should also look into the role of the military police chief’s son in the reporter’s death.
Rights groups said Hang Serei Oudom was the first Cambodian journalist killed since 2008, when reporter Khim Sambo and his son were shot dead in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh.
Khim Sambo, who wrote for the pro-opposition Moneakseka Khmer newspaper, had published an article on nepotism and corruption within Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
The Cambodian courts have come under fire from opposition lawmakers and human rights activists following a series of what they called questionable court rulings.
The lawmakers said in a letter to the head of the supreme court last week that judges and prosecutors have become political tools for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling party and the rich.
Right groups charged that court decisions had demonstrated the government’s misuse of the justice system to suppress dissent and undermine rights.
Rights group Amnesty International on Dec. 27 decried what it called “the dire state of Cambodia’s justice system and the rule of law in the country.”
“Contrary to upholding the rule of law, the Cambodian courts have been piling one injustice on top of another and ensuring that impunity rules,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International’s researcher on Cambodia.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Richard Finney.