Two military police officers and one of their wives were detained for questioning yesterday in connection with the unsolved slaying of Ratanakkiri province Vorakchun Khmer newspaper reporter Hang Serei Oudom, local authorities said.
Em Vun, Banlung town police chief, told the Post that provincial police and investigators from the Ministry of Interior confronted Captain An Bunheng, aka Eng, at the provincial military police headquarters in the morning.
According to rights group Adhoc, police later detained Bunheng’s wife and King Seanglay, the son of a provincial military police commander and the subject of Oudom’s last article in which allegations of illegal logging were levelled at Seanglay.
Several others were briefly brought in for questioning and later released, but as of yesterday evening, the three remained in custody.
Police went to Bunheng’s workplace after provincial authorities and a prosecutor from the court descended on his residence earlier in the morning in Banlung town’s Boeung Kanseng commune.
“When police raided his house, all belongings at his house were removed,” Vun said. “He was not there and police brought him at around 10:30am from where he was being held by military police,” he said.
The journalist’s widow, according to the local authorities, believed a phone number used to call her husband the night he vanished belonged to Bunheng.
Oudom, who was a 44-year-old reporter for Vorakchun Khmer – Khmer Hero in English – disappeared on Sunday when he left his house at night for a meeting.
During his career, he had written articles about illegal logging in Ratanikkiri, which is infamous for its lax crackdown on the black market timber trade.
In his last article, Oudom drew connections between illegal logging and Seanglay, the son of provincial military police commander Kim Reaksmey, neither of whom could not be reached for comment about the allegations.
Oudom’s corpse was discovered days later in the trunk of a 1996 Toyota Camry in O’Chum district. Wounds on his head, according to an autopsy report, suggest he was bludgeoned to death with an axe.
He lived in Banlung with his wife, Im Chanthy, who said he told her when leaving on the night of his disappearance that he would be out for just a while.
Asked about the questioning of Bunheng, Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, said that police believe at least two suspects were involved in the killing, and that the investigation is far from over.
“Please, let police work before we reveal anything,” he said. “Sometimes, the person police brought for questioning might be a witness in the killing.”
This is the first killing of a journalist since 2008, when reporter Khim Sambo and his 21-year-old son were gunned down in the street in a drive-by shooting.
Counting Oudom, 11 journalists have been slain since 1994.
Media observers were incensed by the killing and called for a thorough investigation, calls that echo the aftermath of the previous murders in which assailants were never caught.
The Overseas Press Club of Cambodia said in statement yesterday that another un-solved case would mark the 11th in 20 years.
“Such an act strikes at the core of a journalist’s ability to do their job,” it read.
The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to help create a “safer environment for reporters to do their jobs”.
Shawn Crispin, the Southeast Asia representative with the CPJ, said that while he welcomed news of developments in the investigation of the killing, Cambodian authorities have an “abysmal track record in achieving justice in such cases”.
“It has been nearly four years since the killing of journalist Khim Sambo and little if any progress has been made in his case.”
Crispin said that CPJ’s concern is that the murder may have been motivated by high-level officials in the illegal logging trade, “and that the wheels of justice will halt once investigators come to that conclusion”.