Appeal Court to Try Stalled Case of Murdered Journalist

The case of journalist Hang Serei Odom, who was found hacked to death and stuffed into the trunk of his Toyota Camry in Ratanakkiri province’s O’Chum district on September 11 last year, will be heard by the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh, a senior court official said Monday.

“A deputy general prosecutor reviewed the complaint and thought it was worth an appeal,” Appeal Court general prosecutor Ouk Savouth said.

“The case [will be sent] to Phnom Penh so the Appeal Court can try the case,” he said, declining to say whether the decision to appeal the case was made because the previous decisions by the much-criticized Ratanakkiri Provincial Court were deemed to have been hugely flawed.

Two days after the body of Hang Serei Odom, then 42 and working as a reporter for the Virakchun Khmer Daily, was found on September 11, 2012, military police Captain An Bunheng and his wife, Sim Vy, were arrested.

Police found a pair of Hang Serei Odom’s shoes in the couple’s restaurant, where the journalist, who in the months leading up to his death had written stories about the involvement of local military police in the illegal logging industry, had been drinking the night before he disappeared.

After the couple was put on trial for a second time by the Ratanakkiri court, where judges had previously decided that there was a lack of evidence and requested further investigation, provincial court Judge Y Sovann made the controversial decision in August to drop all charges against the suspects.

Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said at the time that the court disregarded vital evidence in the case, in­cluding new witnesses who said they heard screaming from the couple’s restaurant on the night of Hang Serei Odom’s murder.

The court’s decision to drop charges against Mr. Bunheng and Ms. Vy was widely condemned by human rights groups, including the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, who noted that Hang Serei Odom was the 11th journalist to be killed with impunity since 1994.

Im Chanthy, Hang Serei Odom’s widow, who gave birth to her first child shortly after her husband’s death, said that she was hopeful that the Appeal Court would deliver justice.

“Somebody needs to be held responsible for my husband’s murder,” she said.

“I hope the Appeal Court will not deliver the same decision made by provincial court. Otherwise, more journalists exposing illegal logging will be murdered like my poor husband.”

Mr. Thy said Monday that he applauded the decision by the Appeal Court to retry the case, insisting that the evidence collected by police regarding Hang Serei Odom’s murder was “strong enough to prove the couple were deeply in­volved in the journalist’s murder.”

“The slain journalist’s family should be offered both justice and com­pensation since she [Ms. Chanty] has lost a key person to support her family,” he added.

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