A smiling Chhouk Bandith (centre) leaves the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh yesterday. Photograph: Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
After two days and dozens of testimonies, hearings concerning the case of former Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith concluded yesterday afternoon at the Court of Appeal.
On Monday, judges will announce whether Bandith should in fact be charged for the February 2012 shooting of three garment workers during a violent protest at a Svay Rieng special economic zone.
Charges of causing unintentional injury were dropped against the former governor in December after months of feet-dragging by the prosecutor and investigating judge. Amid public outcry, an Appeal Court prosecutor called for a re-investigation.
During the two days of hearings, Bandith – who was fingered by none other than Interior Minister Sar Kheng in the shooting’s immediate aftermath – appeared the picture of confidence. Yesterday, he arrived 45 minutes late, took a seat and began furiously scribbling in a small notebook. A smile remained on his face for most of the proceedings.
Nearly all of the witnesses called supported Bandith’s testimony, according to rights monitors and the victims, who attended the hearing, which was closed to outsiders. The single exception was Long Phorn, Prasat commune deputy police chief.
Speaking to reporters after giving his eyewitness account,Phorn said he challen-ged Bandith in court with his testimony. “I confronted Chhouk Bandith, telling him he is the one that shot the workers. But Bandith just asked me how I was able to see it so clearly,” he said.
Phorn said he was just seven metres away from Bandith when the shooting took place.
“He did not shoot into the air,” he said, before he was hustled into his car by fellow officers.
Keo Near, 19, one of the three victims shot that day, said Phorn provided the sole implicating testimony.
“Among those police, only one has said the true story; the rest have taken Chhouk Bandith’s side.”
According to Buot Chenda, 21, who was shot in the lung during the February incident, Bandith maintained throughout the hearings that he shot only in the air.
“I am without hope this evening, because Bandith’s lawyer asked that the court uphold the Svay Rieng court decision,” she said.
Rights workers said it was hardly surprising so few witnesses had stepped forward to counter Bandith’s claim.
In their own investigation, the Community Legal Education Centre were able to find three or four direct eye-witnesses and another 20 who had relevant information, labour program head Moeun Tola said.
After learning how powerful the suspect was, however, “they did not dare to talk”.