As Chhouk Bandith yesterday began his 18-month jail term, union leaders praised the arrest of the former Bavet town governor who shot into a crowd of striking garment workers in 2012, though most saw in it no hint of a warming in relations between the government and independent unions.
After spending more than two years in hiding, Bandith turned himself in to authorities on Saturday, less than a week after Prime Minister Hun Sen had publicly called for his arrest.
The February 2012 incident, for which Bandith finally entered the doors of Svay Rieng Provincial Prison yesterday, left three female garment workers from a factory in Bavet’s Manhattan Special Economic Zone hospitalised with bullet wounds.
“It’s a good sign for the unions,” said Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union.
“We have been looking for justice. He committed a crime, but now he is in jail to receive [justice].”
Pav Sina, president of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers, also said he welcomed the development.
“I congratulate Hun Sen’s intervention on this,” he said, adding that the arrest would make authorities who intend on using violence against workers think twice.
“I think it is a good sign for workers and unions, and also a warning sign for others who dare to use violence against garment workers or unions when they protest for their rights and working conditions.”
Sina added, however, that the move was likely tied to the recent arrest of Sok Bun, whose arrest was also called for by Hun Sen after video of the property tycoon beating up television presenter Ek Socheata, aka Ms Sasa, surfaced in early July.
Sar Mora, president of Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation, agreed with the analysis.
“Chhouk Bandith was not arrested for many years since the court convicted him,” he said.
“It’s more about the [three injured] women demanding justice and comparing [themselves] to the case of the TV star.”
At the end of July, the three victims protested in front of the National Assembly, saying that Hun Sen had never called for Bandith’s arrest, unlike in Sok Bun’s case.
Aside from Bandith’s jailing, Mora insisted there had been “no improvement” in the government’s relations with unions, adding that justice has yet to be served to the five garment workers killed by military police gunfire during protests in Phnom Penh in January 2014.
“But we still call for a strong commitment [to justice] from the government,” he said.