A court in Cambodia on Wednesday upheld a 13-year sentence for one of six suspects in the murder of a journalist who had investigated illegal fishing, drawing praise from a local rights group, which called on authorities to find and prosecute the other five men in the case.
Judge San Sophan delivered the verdict following the two-hour hearing at the Kampong Chhnang Provincial Court, rejecting an appeal by suspect Yorg Pealeng who—along with five other suspects who remain on the run—was sentenced on March 2 for the 2014 beating death of reporter Suon Chan.
Yorg Pealeng has denied involvement in Suon Chan’s murder, despite testimony from witnesses who say they saw him holding a club at the scene of the crime.
The verdict also upheld the 13-year sentence in absentia for the other five suspects in the case and ordered all six men to pay five million riel (U.S. $1,245) in compensation to the victim’s family.
Suon Chan, a 44-year-old reporter for the Meakea Kampuchea newspaper, died after being attacked by a group of about 10 local fishermen on Jan. 31 last year in Kampong Chhnang’s Cholkiri district when he left his house to buy cigarettes, sources said in reports at the time.
In October, after an almost nine-month delay, authorities arrested Yorg Pealeng and sent him to the provincial prison to await trial.
However, five others suspected of involvement in the killing remained free, living undisturbed in the same village, and causing local rights groups to question why they had not been arrested when the victim’s family had pointed them out to police.
At the time, Suon Chan’s widow, Teang Theav, told RFA’s Khmer Service that their continued freedom of movement had caused her to fear for her family’s safety, adding that she had “no hope that the court can give us justice, or that the police will arrest anyone else.”
The five have since fled the province and authorities say they have no knowledge of their whereabouts.
On Wednesday, local rights group Adhoc’s provincial coordinator Sum Chan Kea applauded the court’s decision to uphold the sentence, but urged it to bring the remaining suspects to justice.
“We are asking the court to arrest the other five suspects who are on the run,” he said.
“The authorities should ask the national police force to apprehend the suspects if they are hiding in other provinces.”
Culture of impunity
At the time, Suon Chan’s death prompted local rights group The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) to issue a statement calling the incident “yet another affront to freedom of expression, and in particular to freedom of the press.”
It said journalists in Cambodia “are regularly targeted for their work and where a culture of impunity for these crimes reigns.”
In October 2014, reporter Taing Try was shot dead after his car became stuck on a road while he and other journalists investigated the smuggling of luxury wood in Kratie province.
According to data collected by Sithi.org, an online human rights resource, he became the twelfth and most recent reporter to be murdered in Cambodia since 1994.
In addition to Taing Try and Suon Chan in 2014, four journalists were killed in Cambodia in 1994, one in 1996, three in 1997, and one each in 2003, 2008 and 2012, the group said.
Reported by Chen Chetha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.