Observers were there, Puma was there, but once again there was no sign of deposed Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith at the much anticipated re-run of his trial yesterday.
More than 15 months after he allegedly shot three women at a protest, the gallery at the Svay Rieng provincial court room sighed when presiding judge Leang Sour announced a stay in proceedings because Bandith’s lawyers were busy with other cases.
Bandith’s whereabouts remained unknown, while one of his lawyers was in Japan and another was busy with a case in Kampong Cham province, Sour told the packed courtroom. They had given no warning of their absences.
Eighteen witnesses as well as two of the three victims of the February 2011 shooting outside the Kaoway Sports factory, a supplier to Puma in Svay Rieng’s Manhattan Special Economic Zone, stood needlessly in the court room.
Buot Chenda, who was shot through the chest at the protest, said there was nothing surprising about yet another delay in the case.
“Our story has dragged on for a very long time and nothing is strange; it’s more of the same,” she said.
A furious, red-faced, Keo Near, who was also shot at the protest, said it was clear the court had no intention of doing its job.
“I have to struggle to conquer Chhouk Bandith at all costs, even though he is rich and powerful, while I have no money,” she said, surrounded by a swath of security forces amassed for the trial.
Although some victims have had time to marry and give birth since Bandith was charged in March last year, the accused remained free, she added.
Also present was Sar Chantha, the Bavet town criminal police chief who was charged with the shootings shortly before the Svay Rieng court mysteriously dropped their case against Bandith in December last year.
Shortly afterwards, the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh reinvestigated the case and ordered the Svay Rieng court to try Bandith, who court officials had previously said confessed to charges of “unintentionally causing injury” after attempting to fire into the air.
“In the future the authorities won’t dare to do anything because [Bandith] was the perpetrator but the charges were made against someone else,” said Chantha, who is also on trial and maintains he was not even at the scene of the crime.
“The police had guarded the crowds for four days and nothing happened but, as soon as [Bandith] came, the problems happened straight away.”
Long Phorn, Prasat commune deputy police administrator and a witness who came forward against Bandith, said outside the court that his account of the incident remained unchanged.
“I still keep my word that Chhouk Bandith shot towards the protesters, and that he did not shoot into the air, because I was at a distance of approximately seven metres from Chhouk Bandith,” he said.
For the many who came hoping to hear Phorn testify in the case, Bandith’s no-show and the adjournment was just another test of patience.
Dr Reiner Hengstmann, global director of Puma Safe Supply Chain, said he had flown from Germany to monitor such a serious case.
“I am disappointed for the delay of the Svay Rieng court, but we will still continue to follow this case, because we are here to seek justice,” he said.
Nay Vann, president of rights group Adhoc, said Bandith’s lawyers were legally required to inform the court at least two weeks beforehand if they were unable to attend the trial.
“For this case, we see a lack of procedure in the hearing process today. It has no reason for the delay, and the court can proceed in [the accused’s] absentia.”