The hearing of former Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith, who stands accused of shooting three garment workers at a protest last year, will be held before Khmer New Year, a Svay Rieng Provincial Court judge said yesterday.
In March, the Appeal Court reinstated charges of causing unintentional injury against the high-ranking official, ordering the lower court to hear the case some three months after it had dropped the charges, citing insufficient evidence.
Judge Leang Sour said court officials would hold a meeting on Monday to set the date.
“I’ll set the trial date to be as soon as possible. It has to be done before Khmer New Year,” he added.
Svay Rieng Provincial Court president Pech Chhoeut said the court was striving to set a date quickly “because the suspect has been out of detention”.
The powerful former Bavet town governor stands accused of shooting three women who were part of a 6,000-worker protest at the Manhattan Special Economic Zone calling for a wage increase and better working conditions.
The speed with which the case is reportedly progressing represents a marked about-face from the first time it stood before the court. Although there were perhaps dozens of witnesses to the February 20, 2012, shooting and Bandith was fingered by none other than Interior Minister Sar Kheng as the sole suspect early on, no charges were levied against him for two months. When the relatively light charge was filed in April, the case then bounced back and forth between investigating judge and prosecutor for eight months before the latter quietly dropped the charges.
Buot Chenda, 21, who was pierced through the lung when the shooter opened fire, said she had little hope the outcome would be different this time around.
“I have no faith in this court, because they did this before and found Chhouk Bandith innocent. So this time, I am afraid they cannot find him guilty.”
Human-rights monitors said they were similarly sceptical.
“We welcomed the Appeal Court re-charging him but, if you look closely, the case has been following legal procedure on the surface, but the court appears to have no real willingness to find justice,” Licadho technical supervisor Am Sam Ath said.