A provincial court in Cambodia has acquitted a military policeman and his wife who stood accused of the brutal murder of a journalist investigating the country''s illegal timber trade. Hang Serei Oudom''s mutilated body was found in the boot of his car in Ratanakiri Province on 11th September 2012. Captain An Bunheng and his wife were arrested in relation to the death but have been acquitted today due to insufficient evidence.
In the months before he was killed, Hang Serei Oudom had written a number of stories exposing the involvement of government officials in illegal logging. His death came towards the end of a year which saw the number of violent incidents over land and forests rise sharply, including the murders of environmental activist Chut Wutty, and Heng Chantha, a 14 year old girl shot and killed during a land eviction.
"The Cambodian justice system has yet again failed those who risk their lives to defend their rights and protect the country''s rapidly vanishing forests" said Megan MacInnes, Campaigner at Global Witness. "This is the latest example of the shocking climate of impunity in Cambodia. In the last 18 months there have been three murders. Not one has been investigated properly and no perpetrators have been brought to justice."
"Cambodia''s political and business elite are getting rich selling off the country''s land and forests, whilst those that stand in their way are risking and too often losing their lives. Hang Serei Oudom appears to be yet another casualty of this war and his family deserve justice. The investigation into his murder must be reopened and those responsible found and punished."
A report published this week revealed that illegal logging has skyrocketed since July''s national election and that land concessions are being used as a cover to access valuable timber. As of late 2012, 2.6 million hectares of land had been awarded to companies, increasingly in supposedly protected areas. Cambodia has lost almost two-thirds of its primary forest since 2000 with a mere 3% remaining.
"As the battle intensifies over Cambodia''s last remaining forests, it is more vital than ever that the courts and the authorities defend those brave enough to speak out against illegal logging and land grabs. Without their support, environmental defenders like Hang Serei Oudom will continue to be killed and some of Asiaìs last remaining intact forests will soon be gone."