Cambodia’s Appeals Court on Monday overturned a previous judgment and reinstated charges against a former city governor accused of shooting factory workers at a protest, but victims said he should face stiffer charges.
The court ruled that Bavet city ex-governor Chhouk Bandit should be charged with unintentionally injuring three factory workers in the shooting in February last year, sending the case back to the Svay Rieng provincial court for a fresh trial.
The Svay Rieng Court had dropped the charges in December in a decision that activists and rights groups said exemplified Cambodia’s culture of impunity for the political elite.
The workers who were wounded by the gunshots at the protests welcomed the appeals court’s decision to put Chhouk Bandit back on trial, but said they thought the charges of causing “unintentional injury” fell short of what he deserved.“It is sad that the appeals court [decided to charge] Chhouk Bandit with shooting me unintentionally,” said Keo Nea, one of the three women workers who suffered gunshot wounds while participating in the strike by thousands of workers a factory in Svay Rieng that supplies shoes to European sportswear giant Puma.
“I do not want Chhouk Bandit to get away with it,” she told RFA’s Khmer Service.
Rights groups and workers unions have called for Chhouk Bandit, who was dismissed from his post as governor shortly after the incident, to be charged with premeditated murder, slamming prosecutors for pursuing only “light” charges against him.
“The charges are inappropriate. This will lead the victims to suffer physically and emotionally,” Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union President Ath Thon said after the new court ruling.
Another of the injured, Nuth Sakhorn, said that she believed the shooting was intentional.
“If he hadn’t had the intention, he would not have shot me,” she said, adding that she was suffering daily because justice was not being served in the case.
She said she was concerned about the fairness of future proceedings in the Svay Rieng court.
“The appeals courts forwarded the case to Svay Rieng court, and I don’t know what will happen as the court had already dropped charges against him once,” Nuth Sakhorn said.
The Svay Rieng court had said in December that there was insufficient evidence to prove that Chhouk Bandit, the primary suspect in the case, was the gunman, and instead charged a police officer with involuntary bodily harm over the incident.
It remains unclear whether the policeman, Sar Chantha, who has denied the allegations, will still face charges.
The three victims, aged between 18 and 23 at the time of the shooting, filed an appeal after the charges against Chhouk Bandit were dropped.
Reported by Vann Vicha for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.