Outrage over the “unintentional injury” charge handed to a former town governor in Svay Rieng province accused of stepping out of his car and shooting three women at a February protest has sparked threats of union action.
The Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) has threatened to protest outside Svay Rieng provincial court this week if the charge against former Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith is not upgraded to attempted murder.
On February 20, three women were hospitalised after Chhouk Bandith allegedly drove to a protest of about 6,000 garment workers outside Bavet’s Kaoway Sports factory and shot them.
More than two months later, Chhouk Bandith was charged with causing involuntary bodily harm on Thursday, which the C.CAWDU and rights groups have said is a completely inappropriate response.
“C.CAWDU would like to express deep regret at this unjust decision for three victims. There is no reason to charge him with unintentional injuries, because he took a gun to shoot workers. He has to be charged with attempted murder,” the union said in a statement on Friday.
The union has been joined by rights groups and opposition politicians in condemning the leniency of the charge in a case that has drawn international attention because the factory is a supplier of sportswear giant PUMA and other large brands.
Bout Chenda, 21, who was shot through the chest, hospitalised and then transferred to Phnom Penh’s Calmette hospital amid fears for her life, said yesterday the charge was inappropriate.
“He has power. He shot us, threatening our lives, but he did not get serious punishment – it shows that in our country, if you have money and power, you can do what you want,” she said, adding she would file a complaint to the appeal court.
Two other women, Keo Near, 18, and Nuth Sakhorn, 23, were also shot at the protest.
Svay Rieng chief prosecutor Hing Bunchea defended the charge, saying it was based on the evidence provided by these victims.
“We cannot take the word of rumour to charge people, and this charge is not completed yet, so if the investigating judge finds more evidence than what I got, after he finishes the investigation, he can make a new charge,” he said.
Ath Thorn, president of the C.CAWDU, said he would send a letter the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Council of Magistracy, asking why the prosecutor had clearly neglected his responsibilities to victims.
“If I do not get any result, I will announce to all workers in Svay Rieng and NGOs who are involved, ‘come to stage a protest in front of the provincial court to find justice for the victims’.”
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