More than three years after shooting three female garment workers involved in a demonstration, former Bavet town governor Chhouk Bandith finally arrived in Svay Rieng Provincial Prison on Saturday to serve out his long-delayed sentence.
Three years, from shots to surrender
THEN-BAVET town governor Chhouk Bandith fired into a crowd numerous times during a protest at the Kaoway Sports factory in Svay Rieng province on February 20, 2012. His shots injured three female garment workers.
BANDITH loses his job as governor in March 2012, the same month a court official tells journalists he confessed to the crime. The prosecutor says “it’s not right to arrest him. I don’t see it as important”.
EIGHT months after charges were first brought against Bandith, the case is dropped by the Svay Rieng Provincial Court, in December 2012.
IN MARCH, 2013, the Court of Appeal orders the Svay Rieng court to reinstate the charges against the former governor.
A guilty verdict
CHHOUK Bandith is sentenced on June 25, 2013, to 18 months in prison for shooting the three garment workers, although rights groups decry the “weak” charges laid against him. Bandith goes into hiding.
DEPUTY Prime Minister Sar Kheng sends a letter to National Police chief Neth Savoeun in September of 2013 ordering Bandith’s arrest.
Hun Sen wades in
PRIME Minister Hun Sen on August 3 calls on police to arrest Bandith to comply with an Interpol “red notice” issued in March, breaking his long-held silence in the case.
The game’s up
BANDITH ends three years in hiding by walking into a police station in Phnom Penh on Saturday and giving himself up.
Svay Rieng provincial deputy prosecutor Phan Rattana said Bandith was detained on Saturday after he was sent to the provincial court.
“We completely implemented the verdict,” he said.
Svay Rieng Provincial Prison director Suos Sakho confirmed the news, saying that the former governor is currently in a shared cell and not receiving any special treatment.
“He is a normal prisoner, so there are no special conditions or a special cell for him,” he said.
“This means he is being detained in a [5-metre-by-6-metre] cell housing 30 other prisoners.”
The detention came after Bandith – who was sentenced by the Court of Appeal in 2013 to 18 months in prison and fined 38 million riel (about $9,200) for shooting three female garment workers at a demonstration at the Kaoway Sports footware factory in February 2012 – turned himself in.
He managed to evade authorities for more than three years after the initial sentencing, effectively disappearing since June 25, 2013, when the Svay Rieng Provincial Court issued his arrest warrant.
A rights worker yesterday claimed Bandith was allegedly in the Kingdom the entire time.
The case was brought back to public attention last week when Prime Minister Hun Sen broke a long silence on the case, calling on authorities to comply with an Interpol “red notice” and hunt down the fugitive.
“In the case of Chhouk Bandith, if police do not arrest him, they are wrong,” he said on August 3. “There is a red notice from Interpol. There must be arrests.”
Just a few days later, Bandith arrived at the Phnom Penh police station.
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator with rights group Licadho, alleged that Hun Sen’s involvement in the case was crucial to bringing the criminal to justice. In one call to action, the premier managed to boost his reputation while exerting influence over the courts, Sam Ath claimed.
“Chhouk Bandith, who the authorities often said was abroad until there was cooperation with Interpol, was not abroad – he was inside the country,” he said. “If the prime minister did not want to arrest him, the police forces wouldn’t have spotted him.”
One of the victims in the 2012 shooting, Buot Chenda, was relieved to see her attacker finally pay for his crimes, even though she is still anxiously hoping for damages to be paid.
“If the prime minister did not intervene, Chhouk Bandith may not have decided to turn himself in,” she said. “We are also asking the court to order [him] to pay compensation to us [victims].”