Frustrated that ex-Bavet city governor Chhouk Bandith remains on the run more than two weeks after his conviction in a controversial shooting case, Cambodians are donating their own money toward a reward for information leading to his arrest.
Deum Tnon News, a Phnom Penh-based newspaper, has collected 7 million riel (about U.S. $1,700) from Cambodians across the country since posting a request for donations for the reward following the once powerful official’s conviction last month.
The fugitive ex-governor is believed to be hiding in eastern Cambodia’s remote Mondulkiri or Rattanakiri provinces, according to police, since he was sentenced in absentia to 18 months in prison on June 25 over a February 2012 factory shooting.
Rights groups have said he is likely under the protection of other officials and decried his case as a reflection of the country’s culture of impunity and corruption.
A Deum Tnon News staff member said donors had given their own money toward the reward as a form of “civic participation” aimed at ending such impunity.
“Seven million riel is a small amount of money but it comes from those who love justice,” said the staff member, who gave only his first name Rotha.
“People think the conviction is only made on paper and they are concerned that there has been no arrest.”
National Police spokesman Kiet Chantharith told RFA’s Khmer service on Tuesday that the police are still hunting for Chhouk Bandith, who has appealed his verdict.
The fugitive is believed to be hiding within the country and some information indicates he could be in Rattanakiri or Mondulkiri, he said.
Aside from his prison sentence, Chhouk Bandith has been ordered to pay 38 million riel (U.S. $9,500) in compensation to three factory workers who were wounded in the shooting during a protest by thousands of workers against conditions in a Puma sportswear supplier factory.
The shooting case against him had been dropped last year, but the charges were reinstated by Cambodia’s Appeals Court in March following outrage among rights groups.
Moeun Tola, head of the labor program of local rights group Cambodia Legal Education Center (CLEC), said he thought the public offer of rewards for tips on Chhouk Bandith’s arrest were a healthy sign that Cambodians were concerned about the case.
“This is good that the public is thinking about the case,” he said, adding that he thought the government should be offering the reward.
If there is no arrest ahead of national elections on July 28, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party will likely lose votes from the country’s hundreds of thousands of garment workers, he said.
NGOs and rights groups say the shooting case has highlighted the reluctance of Cambodian courts to find justice for the victims.
“The voters will be considering whether they will vote for anyone who has weapons and can shoot people,” he said.
Reported by Vann Vicha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.