Cambodian journalist found dead in his own car

Bangkok, September 12, 2012–Cambodian authorities must immediately investigate the murder of a journalist who was found with ax wounds in the trunk of his car on Tuesday, less than a week after he had exposed an alleged military connection to the illicit timber trade, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The body of Hang Serei Odom, a reporter for the Khmer-language Virakchun Khmer Daily newspaper, was found in his car at a cashew plantation in the O’Chum district of northeastern Ratanakiri province, according to news reports. The journalist’s wife had reported him missing after he failed to return from an appointment on Sunday, news reports said.

The Cambodia Daily quoted local police chief Song Bunthanorm as saying that Hang Serei Odom had been hit in the front and back of the head with an ax. The official said at least two people were involved in the murder, the report said. No suspects were immediately identified.  

Hang Serei Odom reported frequently on illegal logging activities in Ratanakiri province, according to news reports citing the editor of Virakchun Khmer Daily. In a September 6 report, he had alleged that a provincial military police officer was involved in the illicit timber trade and had used military vehicles to smuggle illegally cut logs, according to news reports.  

Despite an official ban on timber exports, illegal logging activities are rife in Cambodia, according to independent environmental groups. News reporting on the illegal trade is considered highly sensitive and has proven to be extremely dangerous for both local and foreign journalists, according to CPJ research.

“The brutal murder of Hang Serei Odom underscores the grave risks Cambodian reporters face,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Prime Minister Hun Sen must make a stronger commitment to protecting journalists and bringing those who attack reporters to justice. To date, his record on both scores is sorely lacking.” 

In April, military police shot dead environmental activist Chut Wutty while he was leading two Cambodia Daily journalists to a site in a protected forest in Koh Kong province where alleged illegal logging was taking place. Nobody has been brought to account for the activist’s murder.

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