Chhouk Bandith, the deposed Bavet town governor accused of shooting a woman through the chest and injuring two others during a garment factory protest, was yesterday charged with causing “unintentional injuries”, a court official said.
Pech Chhoeut, director of Svay Rieng provincial court, said the investigating judge had charged Chhouk Bandith over the February shooting at Kaoway Sports factory, a supplier to PUMA, after receiving his case from provincial prosecutor Hing Bun Chea.
“Chhouk Bandith was charged with causing unintentional injuries,” Pech Chhoeut said before declining to say whether an arrest warrant would be issued.
More than 6,000 workers from four factories in the Manhattan special economic zone protested outside the factory on February 20, demanding higher wages and better working conditions.
The protest descended into chaos when a man, alleged to be Chhouk Bandith, opened fire on the crowd, shooting Buot Chenda, 21, in the chest and injuring Keo Near, 18, and Nuth Sakhorn, 23.
Nuth Sakhorn said yesterday she was shocked the provincial court had charged Chhouk Bandith with causing only unintentional injuries.
“The court knows already that Chhouk Bandith shot us,” she said. “Why has the court charged him like this? They should punish him more seriously than this.”
Minister of Interior Sar Kheng publicly identified Chhouk Bandith as the shooter on March 1, but Hing Bun Chea decided against issuing a warrant for his arrest and summonsed him to court for questioning instead.
Chhouk Bandith was later sacked as governor and allegedly confessed in the provincial court on March 15 to the shootings before walking free.
Cambodian Center for Human Rights president Ou Virak said the charge laid yesterday was “nowhere near” giving justice to the victims and their families.
“It was certainly not unintentional, the fact that he walked out of his car and fired into a protest, and there were thousands of people at the protest,” he said.
“Certainly I am disappointed, but I am not surprised given the many, many cases of impunity in this country.
“People using firearms shooting into a crowd should be charged with a much, much more serious crime and should be punished accordingly.”
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said Chhouk Bandith’s arrest was another test for impunity in Cambodia and called on prosecutors to revise the charges to reflect what had happened.
“My response would be that on one hand, we’re happy he has been charged with anything, given the Cambodian justice system,” Robertson said.
“The fact he is being charged despite his influence is also in some ways important.
“[But] it’s important that he is charged with the correct charge, and if the prosecutors had spoken with witnesses from the actual incident, they probably would have been able to tell more clearly whether it was unintentional or intentional.”
Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said the shooting had been a deliberate attack on unarmed protesters.
“One of the victims was shot in the breast,” he said. “She had no gun – this is attempted murder.”
Hing Bun Chea would not confirm the details of the charge when contacted yesterday.
“I have already charged him,” he said.
Chhouk Bandith could not be reached for comment yesterday.