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Cambodian court finds two accused not guilty in case of murdered reporter

On 28 August 2013, the Ratanakkiri Provincial Court announced its verdict in the case of murdered reporter Hang Serei Oudom and found the husband and wife charged with the brutal murder not guilty. The decision was based on an apparent lack of sufficient evidence to warrant a conviction.

Hang Serei Oudom, investigative journalist for The Vorakchun Khmer Daily in Ratanakkiri, was found bludgeoned to death in the trunk of his abandoned car on 11 September 2012. None of his possessions were missing, ruling out any suspicion of random robbery. Hang Serei Oudom had been reporting on illegal logging in the area and the last article he contributed to before his death, published on 6 September 2012, accused the son of a local military police commander of being complicit in illegal logging.

On 13 September 2012, local military officer An Bunheng and his wife, who owned the restaurant where Hang Serei Oudom was last seen alive, were arrested on suspicion of his murder, following the discovery of the journalist's shoes near their establishment. According to Chhay Thy, Provincial Representative of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association ("ADHOC") in Ratanakkiri, a blood-stained blanket was also found in a water tank behind the suspects' house. The two suspects were formally charged on 19 September 2012.

Witnesses in the case claimed that there had been more people involved in the murder. However the investigation into Hang Serei Oudom's death was summarily concluded on 21 November 2012 and the court declined to arrest any further suspects. The court also refused to examine the link between Hang Serei Oudom's research into illegal logging and his death. In April 2013, investigation into the case was reopened at the behest of judges who believed that evidence had not been sufficiently gathered.

Despite the reopening of the investigation, no further evidence was collected. Before his murder, Hang Serei Oudom had had a telephone conversation with An Bunheng and on the night of his murder he told his wife that he was going out for a short time to meet with An Bunheng. He never returned. According to Chhay Thy of ADHOC, the investigative judges failed to obtain phone records to shed light on the phone conversation between the victim and the suspect. In addition, the blood-stained blanket that was found in the suspects' home was sent to Vietnam for forensic tests to prove that the red coloring was in fact blood. The tests allegedly came back negative.

Hang Serei Oudom is the eleventh journalist to be murdered in Cambodia since 1994 and is now the eleventh journalist whose murder has been met with impunity.

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