The wife of slain investigative journalist Hang Serei Odom filed an appeal Tuesday after the Ratanakkiri Provincial Court dropped all charges against a military police officer and his wife who were allegedly involved in her husband’s murder.
“I submitted the appeal today because the provincial court’s decision to release the couple is a huge injustice for my late husband,” said Im Chanthy, who filed the appeal to both the Justice Ministry and Appeal Court.
Hang Serei Odom was found hacked to death on September 11 and stuffed in his car’s trunk in O’Chum district. The 42-year-old reporter for the Virakchun Khmer Daily had written about officials involved in the illegal timber trade in the months before his murder.
Two days after his 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 him on August 28 and they were released the next day. Rights groups and the journalist’s family have said that although only two were charged, others must have at least known about the killing.
Ms. Chanthy said Tuesday that the court had disregarded some key evidence linking the couple to her husband’s murder.
“The court in Ratanakkiri just decided the case in favor of the rich even though there was a number of sufficient pieces of evidence, such as the finding of my husband’s shoes and blood stains on the blanket found at the suspect’s house—all of which were not considered in court,” she said.
According to a copy of the verdict statement, provincial prosecutor Chea Sopheak had signed off on the court’s decision the same day that judges issued the verdict, even though Ms. Chanthy still had a month to appeal the decision.
“The couple has no history of being convicted by any courts so the provincial court has decided to acquit An Bunheng and Sim Vy from premeditated murder charges,” the statement reads.
Mr. Sopheak declined to comment on why he had signed off on the verdict. “I was just following procedure,” he said.
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director for legal aid group the Cambodian Defenders Project, said he generally supports the immediate release of suspects following acquittal, as the prosecutor still has the right to appeal even after signing off on a verdict.
Hang Serei Odom is the 11th journalist to be assassinated since 1994. All cases have gone unpunished.
(Additional reporting by Dene-Hern Chen)