The Appeal Court questioned more than 20 witnesses on Thursday in the case of former Bavet City governor Chhouk Bundith and his alleged role in a triple shooting, with one witness claiming that he had seen Mr. Bundith shoot his gun into a crowd of protesting factory workers.
As of Wednesday, the hearing was once again closed to the public, with court officials explaining that it was an ongoing investigation and not an open trial.
Lawyers and court officials remained tight-lipped about the court’s proceedings, and declined to comment on whether the Bar Association of Cambodia’s recent gag order on its lawyers speaking to the media was the reason for their silence.
On his second day in court, Mr. Bundith again appeared in good spirits, this time dressed in a khaki-colored uniform similar to those worn by Bavet City police officers who were witnesses yesterday.
Mr. Bundith could be seen occasionally crossing and uncrossing his legs, or leaning forward to rest his elbows on his haunches, as more than 20 witnesses were questioned about the events of February 20, 2012, during a violent strike outside a factory making shoes for German sports brand Puma.
Long Phorn, deputy police chief of Bavet City’s Prasat commune, said outside the courtroom that he had testified to having seen Mr. Bundith open fire on the protesters.
“I saw him shoot, and I saw a worker fall down,” Mr. Phorn said shortly after giving his testimony. “But he [Chhouk Bundith] denied this,” he added.
Mr. Phorn explained that he was standing roughly 7 meters from Mr. Bundith when he saw the then-governor open fire on a crowd of protesting workers. Three women were injured in the shooting.
The Svay Rieng Provincial Court initially levied the charge of causing unintentional injuries against Mr. Bundith in April, 2012, for his role in the triple shooting after Interior Minister Sar Kheng announced that he was the sole suspect identified after an interministerial investigation of the incident.
However, the court, without explanation, dropped all charges against Mr. Bundith in December. Instead, the court charged Bavet City police officer Sar Chantha with the shooting. Mr. Chantha has proclaimed his innocence repeatedly by saying that he was not even armed on the day of the protest.
Amid intense public interest in the case, the Appeal Court announced in January that it was carrying out a re-investigation of Mr. Bundith under the orders of Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana.
Also questioned in court yesterday were Bavet City police chief Keo Kong and Svay Rieng provincial police chief Koeng Khorn. Both declined to comment on their testimony.
According to the three shooting victims present during yesterday’s hearing, Keo Nea, 19; Bun Chenda, 21; and Nuth Sakhorn, 23, the more than 20 police officers who were present at the strike and were witnesses in court all said that they had heard gunshots the day of the strike. But only Mr. Phorn actually said he saw Mr. Bundith doing the shooting.
“Chhouk Bundith denied that he did this but we all objected to his denial because [Mr. Phorn] saw this very clearly,” Ms. Sakhorn said.
On Wednesday, Mr. Bundith testified to shooting his handgun in the air more than 10 times, but said he was unaware where the bullets went.
Mao Samvutheary, Mr. Bundith’s lawyer, said Mr. Phorn had the right to his version of events.
“The witness has the right to say that, but the [provincial] court did not charge [Mr. Bundith in the end],” Ms. Samvutheary said. “I request the Appeal Court to uphold the provincial court’s resolution verdict.”
About 17 garment workers were also summoned for questioning yesterday, but none of them turned up, said the victims’ lawyer, Sary Bothchakrya. Ms. Bothchakrya and Chin Lyda, another lawyer of the victims, both declined to comment on the hearing.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for local rights group Licadho, said he would monitor Mr. Phorn’s safety after he gave such strong testimony against Mr. Bundith in court.
“I am concerned about this witness’ safety because he dares to answer these questions with the truth,” Mr. Sam Ath said. “We will continue to monitor this case.”
German sports brand Puma—which sources from the factory the three injured victims work at—also attempted to monitor the court proceedings but were ousted from the chambers on Wednesday at the request of Mr. Bundith’s lawyer.
“Puma hopes that the Cambodian government will put all efforts in convicting the guilty perpetrator who committed the crime,” Kerstin Neuber, head of Puma’s corporate communications, said in an email on Wednesday.
Presiding Judge Khun Leang Meng said a decision in the case will be announced on March 4.