Aerial view of illegal logging in Cambodia. Photo by: Paul Mason USAID/Cambodia/OGD.
An investigation into the mysterious death of Cambodian forest activist, Chut Wutty, has been dismissed by the courts, which critics allege is apart of an ongoing cover up. The court decided that since the suspect in Wutty’s death, In Rattana, was also dead there was no need to proceed. Chut Witty was shot to death while escorting two journalists to a logging site run by Timbergreen. Wutty, whose death made international news, was a prominent activist against illegal logging in Cambodia.
According to a court proceeding on last Thursday, Chut Wutty was killed by In Rattana, a military officer working for Timbergreen, after refusing to give up a memory card with photos on it. In Rattana was in turn shot and killed by a Timbergreen security guard who was attempting to disarm him. While the court has accepted this as the official version, several other stories came forward in the days following Wutty’s death. One stated that In Rattana was killed by his own bullets that ricocheted off Wutty’s car as they activist attempted to drive away; another said that In Rattana shot himself after killing Wutty. Critics believe that the rapid dismissal of the case proves that there is a cover-up going on.
“Many of the officials who benefit from illegal trade, illegal logging, and illegal trade of timbers, were not happy with [Chut Wutty],” Ou Virak the head of the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (Adhoc) said as reported by the Voice of America. “And, because of that, I don’t think there’s any desire by the government and people in power to investigate.”
Wutty’s family members have also expressed disbelief at the current story.
“It was the ringleader of the illegal logging operations that ordered my husband killed,” Wutty’s wife, Sam Chanthy, told Radio Free Asia. “I don’t think In Rattana wanted to kill my husband.”
Exposing the rampant logging trade in Cambodia has increasingly become a deadly business. Last month, journalist Hang Serei Oudom, who had been covering deforestation in remote Ratanakiri province, was found dead in the trunk of his car, likely beaten to death with an axe. Then two weeks ago another journalist, Ek Sokunthy, was nearly beaten to death in his home by three assailants; Sokunthy had written about illegal logging the month before.
Forest loss and land conflict have become major issues in Cambodia, as economic land concessions to foreign corporations have stripped locals of access to many of their natural resources. From 1990 to 2010, Cambodia loss 22 percent of its forest cover, falling to 57 percent. Only 3.2 percent of Cambodia’s forest is considered primary, the most carbon-rich and biodiverse ecosystems.
(09/27/2012) Two weeks after an environmental journalist was found murdered in the trunk of his car, another journalist has been brutally attacked in Cambodia. Ek Sokunthy with the local paper Ta Prum says he was beaten in his home by three assailants by a pistol and a stick. The attack follows swiftly after the high-profile murder of 44-year-old forest journalist Hang Serei Oudom.
(09/13/2012) Less than five months after high-profile forest activist, Chut Wutty, was killed in Cambodia, an environmental journalist, Hang Serei Oudom, has been found slain in the trunk of his car, possibly murdered with an ax, reports the AFP. Oudum, who worked at the local paper Vorakchun Khmer Daily, was known for writing stories on epidemic of illegal logging in Cambodia, often linking the crime to business people and politicians. The car and body were found in a cashew nut plantation in Ratanakiri province, an area rife with logging.
(08/06/2012) Four economic land concessions have been cancelled in Cambodia’s Prey Lang forest, known as the largest intact lowland forest in Southeast Asia, reports the Phnom Penh Post. The economic land concessions, totaling over 40,000 hectares, would have been used for rubber plantations.
(06/27/2012) A month-and-a-half after Cambodian Prime Minister, Hun Sen, declared a moratorium on on new economic land concessions, the government has announced four new concessions, each located in protected areas. Economic land concessions have come under the microscope in Cambodia after large-scale protests by local people and the recent murder of forest activist Chut Wutty. Critics say the concessions, which last year totaled two million hectares (4.9 million acres) sold off to foreign corporations, have resulted in local land conflict and environmental degradation.
(06/19/2012) On May 24th, 2011, forest activist José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva and his wife, Maria do Espírito Santo da Silva, were gunned down in an ambush in the Brazilian state of Pará. A longtime activist, José Cláudio Ribeiro da Silva had made a name for himself for openly criticizing illegal logging in the state which is rife with deforestation. The killers even cut off the ears of the da Silvas, a common practice of assassins in Brazil to prove to their employers that they had committed the deed. Less than a year before he was murdered, da Silva warned in a TEDx Talk, “I could get a bullet in my head at any moment…because I denounce the loggers and charcoal producers.”
(05/07/2012) Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen announced today that Cambodia would be temporarily suspending new economic land concessions and would revoke any concessions from companies involved in illegal logging, the evictions of locals or land-grabbing. The announcement comes two week after the high-profile death of local forest activist, Chut Wutty, who was shot and killed by military police while investigating illegal logging with two journalists.
(05/02/2012) Chut Wutty, a dedicated Cambodian activist, was shot dead at an illegal logging site by military police, last Thursday. At the time Wutty was driving with two journalists, who wrote a shocking eye-witness account of his death, revealing that he was physically and verbally abused, then shot whilst trying to drive away, and left to die. His death reveals the brutal power of logging syndicates and companies, which are looting the country’s natural wealth, and employing the military to silence their opponents.
(04/26/2012) Chut Wutty, a prominent activist against illegal logging and deforestation, has been killed in the Koh Kong province of Cambodia. Wutty was shot dead at a military police checkpoint while traveling with two journalists with The Cambodia Daily. The journalists are currently being held for questioning by the military police.