A Cambodian journalist who exposed illegal logging and forest crimes involving the local elite has been murdered, police said Wednesday, after his battered body was found in the trunk of his car.
Hang Serei Oudom, 42, a reporter for the local Virakchum Khmer Daily newspaper, had been missing since Sunday afternoon and his body was found on Tuesday in northeastern Cambodia’s Ratanakiri province, said Ek Vun, the police chief for Balung City, the provincial capital.
Authorities are working to identify suspects involved in the murder of the reporter, who had recently written a string of stories about deforestation and timber smuggling in Ratanakiri, where logging and mining in recent years have taken a big toll on the environment.
“We have already collected the necessary evidence and we are investigating the case,” provincial governor Pao Ham Phan said.
Police also found the reporter’s camera and press card in the car, which was abandoned at a cashew plantation.
The Ratanakiri-based reporter had been beaten with sticks and had bruises on his head and other parts of his body, Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) provincial investigator Chhay Thy said.
The Club of Cambodian Journalists condemned the murder as a threat to freedom of expression in the country and appealed to the authorities to arrest those responsible.
“The Club of Cambodian Journalists regards the murder as an attempt to intimidate professional journalists. The suspects also attempted to obstruct journalists from upholding freedom of press and expression,” the group said in a statement.
In his most recent article on Sept. 6, Hang Serei Oudom accused the son of a military police commander of smuggling logs in military-plated vehicles and extorting money from people who were legally transporting wood, according to Agence France-Presse.
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights and Southeast Asian Press Alliance issued a joint statement calling for a thorough investigation into the case, saying the reporter had uncovered several cases linked to the country’s powerful, well-connected elite.
Hang Serei Oudom's murder follows the death in April of environmental activist Chut Wutty, who was gunned down while investigating illegal logging in southwestern Cambodia’s Koh Kong province.
According to military police, Chut Wutty had been leading two journalists from a local newspaper to show them what he thought were illegal logging activities when he was killed.
A security guard from a logging company was charged in connection with the murder, but conflicting accounts given by the authorities about the mysterious circumstances surrounding his death prompted calls from rights groups for a thorough investigation.
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 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.
Police have completed Hang Serei Oudom’s autopsy and sent his body to the family for the funeral.
They have still not established the motive for the murder.
Reported by Sok Ratha for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.