Exhibit Remembers Slain Journalists, Calls for End to ‘Impunity’

Im Chanthy was seven months pregnant when her husband was killed three years ago, his body stuffed in the trunk of his Toyota Camry.

In the months before his murder on September 11, 2012, Hang Serei Odom, 42, a reporter for the Virakchun Khmer Daily, had written about officials involved in the illegal luxury timber trade.

Two days after his body was found, a military police captain and his wife were arrested when police discovered a pair of Hang Serei Odom’s shoes in the couple’s restaurant, where he had been drinking the night before he disappeared. The case against them was dropped a year later due to a lack of evidence.

Since her husband’s death, Ms. Chanthy, now 23, has started working on a plantation to make enough money to raise her daughter.

“I miss him,” she said last week. “He’s gone. It seems like life has no worth.”

Though the motivation for Hang Serei Odom’s murder remains unknown, human rights groups and his family believe it was because he frequently reported on illegal logging involving power figures in Ratanakkiri.

“If what he was reporting wasn’t a big problem, it probably wouldn’t have cost his life,” Ms. Chanthy said.

Hang Serei Odom is one of at least 13 journalists who have been killed in Cambodia since 1993 in cases believed to be directly related to their work.

And while violence against journalists had become increasingly rare, last year marked a “giant step backward,” according to Amanda King, communications director for the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), which is launching an exhibit tonight to mark the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists.

“For a long time people were saying that the safety for journalism was improving, but we see that last year was a giant step backward for Cambodia,” Ms. King said on Friday. “2014 was the deadliest year for journalists in Cambodia since 1997.”

In January last year, Suon Chan, 44, who reported mainly on illegal fishing and worked for the infrequently published Meakea newspaper, was beaten to death by six men with bamboo poles. The provincial court convicted six suspects in absentia, but police have made only one arrest to date.

In October last year Taing Try, 49, who wrote for several local newspapers, was shot dead in Kratie province when he and five other journalists were investigating reports of illegal logging.

Police quickly arrested a commune police chief, a military police officer and a soldier for the murder, and they all publicly confessed. However, two of the suspects were later released and there has been no conviction in the case.

The murders of Hang Serei Odom, Suon Chan and Taing Try will be remembered along with the rest of their colleagues killed since 1994 in the exhibit “A Legacy of Impunity: Crimes Against Journalists in Cambodia,” which opens at Meta House tonight highlighting the impunity in such cases.

In the past 10 years, only one in 10 cases of killings of journalists worldwide—about 700 in all—has led to a conviction, according to Unesco. In Cambodia, Suon Chan’s murder is the only case in which a perpetrator has been convicted.

Pa Ngoun Teang, executive director of CCIM, said the failure to arrest those who have committed violence against journalists continues to have a chilling effect.

“The police and the government authority’s commitment to investigations is a problem still now,” he said. “I think impunity causes fear. Journalists are now careful with their job and try to do self-censorship.”

At tonight’s event, CCIM will launch a petition, which it hopes to submit to the Interior Ministry by the end of November, urging the government to reopen investigations into the slain journalists.

“I think even just reopening these investigations and taking another look at them would really send a strong message to people who instigate violence against journalists that they can’t get away with it, that impunity is no longer an option,” Ms. King said.

[email protected]

© 2015, All rights reserved.