Nine months after former Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith allegedly shot three garment workers during a protest, the Svay Rieng provincial prosecutor has wrapped up his investigation, though a court date has not yet been set, a court official said yesterday.
But the slow progress, which has seen almost two months of prosecutorial inquiry following months of examination by the investigating judge, has raised eyebrows among court monitors and rights groups who have accused the court of purposefully stalling to avoid trying a highly sensitive case.
Pich Chhert, provincial court president who is also the investigating judge on the case, said he received the prosecutor’s conclusion last week.
“This case is being processed in the administrative registration. I don’t know when [we] will schedule the date of the hearing, however, I will clarify the conclusion made by the prosecutor later,” he said, declining to elaborate further.
In mid-September, Chhert said his own investigation had wrapped up and he expected the case would go to trial within a week.
Charged with causing “unintentional injury”, witnesses said they saw Bandith shoot into the crowd during a violent protest calling for higher pay by 6,000 garment workers employed at four factories in the Manhattan Special Economic Zone.
It took two months before the relatively light charges were filed, and since then, the case has bounced back and forth between judge and prosecutor, while Bandith has never once been arrested.
The three victims have each asked for US$45,000 in compensation. Rights groups said yesterday there was no question the latest development was simply another stall tactic employed by a court too frightened to try such a politically sensitive case.
“I can say that it is the intention of the court trying to take no measurement in this case at all,” said Am Sam Ath, senior investigating officer at Licadho.
“What the court has done so far is to conceal its intention only and take this case for granted, because it accused the defendant of only the slightest and most minor of charges,” he said, adding that the court officials likely found themselves in an uncomfortable position.
Moeun Tola, head of the labour program at the Cambodian Legal Education Centre, also called the “unintentional injury” charge evidence of an unwillingness to seek justice.
“We can see a completely clear distinction between the Chhouk Bandith case, in which he was not arrested after causing injuries, and the case of Borei Keila and Boeung Kak community, in which they were jailed for protesting,” he said.
For the victims, meanwhile, nine months without visible movement in the case against their alleged attacker has left them cynical.
Buot Chenda, 21, who was shot in the lung during the February incident, said she long ago gave up hope of a resolution.
“I don’t think I will receive justice, because the powerful people are always the winners in our country as clearly illustrated in this case of mine,” she said.
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at [email protected]