A court in Cambodia on Tuesday ordered a renewed probe into the murder of a journalist who had exposed corruption among local elites, saying an earlier investigation had neglected important evidence that could shed new light on the case.
Presiding judge Y Sovann told the Ratanakiri provincial court that several sources of information had been overlooked during the investigation into the killing of Hang Serei Oudom, who was found beaten to death in the trunk of his car last September.
The court had been due to deliver a verdict on Tuesday for the two suspects charged with his murder, Cambodian military officer An Bunheng and his wife, known by her nickname “Vy,” who have both denied the charges.
“The investigating judge must examine additional evidence in the case of Hang Serei Oudom,” Y Sovann said, adding that the former investigating judge Luch Lao had failed to perform his duties and would be replaced on the case.
“The [new] investigating judge must look into the cell phone records of the deceased from [telecommunication companies] Mobitel and Mfone before the murder took place, and interview additional witnesses to the crime scene.”
Y Sovann said the judge should also ask additional questions of An Bunheng and his wife, as well as other military police officers in the area that may have additional details about the incident.
He ordered that the accused couple remain in detention until further evidence comes to light in the case, adding that there would not be a time limit placed on the new investigation.
Deputy prosecutor Chea Sopheak, who originally brought charges against An Bunheng and his wife in September last year, told RFA’s Khmer Service that he “supports the additional investigation.”
Hang Serei Oudom’s wife Im Chanthy told RFA that she welcomed the court’s decision to open an additional investigation and order the continued detention of the two suspects.
“I hope the judge will provide justice for our family and provide us with compensation for this wrongful death,” she said.
Heng Sotheara, the lawyer representing the accused couple, said the court decision could prove disadvantageous for his clients, but added that he “supports a further investigation which could provide justice to parties on both sides of the case.”
Hang Serei Odom, journalist for the Vorakchun Khmer newspaper, was looking into claims of illegal logging and extortion when he went missing on Sept. 10 last year. His battered body was found two days later in the trunk of his car.
An Bunheng and his wife 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.
Rights groups called for a thorough investigation into Hang Serei Oudom’s death, noting that the journalist had written about influential people, including businessmen and provincial officials involved in the trafficking of luxury wood, and that his colleagues had told him “they were concerned for his safety” in the days before he disappeared.
In October, Cambodia-based rights group ADHOC said Hang Serei Oudom was among at least a dozen journalists who have been killed in Cambodia in the nearly two decades since U.N.-backed elections were held following decades of civil war.
ADHOC said 17 journalists received death threats and an additional 12 were imprisoned over the same period. Another reporter was seriously wounded in an attack, the group said.
In April last year, 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.
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.
But last week, on the one-year anniversary of his death, Chut Wutty’s family called for the reopening of investigations into his murder and urged authorities to find his “true killer.”
Reported by Ratha Visak for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.