Family of Slain Investigative Journalist to Appeal Court’s Verdict

The wife of slain investigative journalist Hang Serei Odom will appeal to the Ministry of Justice and the Appeal Court over the Ratanakkiri Provincial Court’s decision to drop the charges against a military police officer and his wife who were allegedly involved in the journalist’s murder, a lawyer said Sunday.

Hang Serei Odom, 42, a reporter for the Virakchun Khmer Daily, was found hacked to death and stuffed in the trunk of his car in O’Chum district on September 11 last year. In the months before his murder, he had written about officials involved in the illegal timber trade.

Two days after the journalist’s body was found, military police Captain An Bunheng and his wife, Sim Vy, 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 provincial court dropped all charges against the couple last week and they were released on Thursday night. Local and international rights groups have said the verdict was a miscarriage of justice and called for those re­sponsible to be prosecuted.

Hok Phalla, the lawyer of Hang Serei Odom’s wife, Im Chanthy, said Sunday that Ms. Chanthy is in Phnom Penh to meet with local rights group Adhoc to submit an appeal to the Ministry of Justice and the Appeal Court to intervene in the case.

“It is a great injustice for the court to free and drop all charges against the suspects because [my client’s husband] lost his life,” Mr. Phalla said, adding that they plan to file the appeal shortly.

“I think that freeing the suspects will encourage the killer to commit more crimes. I believe that one person cannot do this alone, but the court has failed to investigate to find anyone else that could behind this crime,” he said.

A panel of three judges ordered a re-investigation of the murder in May, citing a lack of evidence after hearings were held in March and April. During a hearing on August 2, witnesses said they heard somebody shouting for help from the couple’s restaurant on the night the journalist disappeared.

Adhoc, which has been closely monitoring the case, criticized the court procedure during the initial investigation of the case, in which important evidence, such as phone records, was not examined or retrieved in the immediate aftermath of the murder.

Chhay Thy, Adhoc’s provincial coordinator, confirmed that the couple was released late Thursday night following the court’s verdict. Officials at the court could not be reached.

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