Appeal Court Takes Over Bavet Shooting Case

The prosecutor general of the Appeal Court has appealed against the Svay Rieng Provincial Court’s decision to drop all charges against the former Bavet City governor, the chief suspect in a shooting that left three female garment workers seriously injured.

Ouk Savuth, the prosecutor general, said yesterday that his appeal was filed on December 21, three days after the Svay Rieng Provincial Court decided to drop charges against Chhouk Bundith, the former governor. Mr. Bundith had previously been charged with “causing unintentional injuries” for his role in the February shooting during a protest outside a shoe factory supplying the German sports brand Puma.

“We appealed against the Svay Rieng Provincial Court’s decision after it dropped the charge on the workers’ shooting on December 21, but no reporters asked me about it,” Mr. Savuth said.

“We are taking Mr. Bundith’s case for sentencing at our Appeal Court in order to find justice for the three victims,” he added, declining to elaborate further.

The provincial court prosecutor, Hing Bunchea, confirmed yesterday that the Appeal Court would take over Mr. Bundith’s case. “Our court clerk will hand over Mr. Bundith’s case to our Appeal Court on January 2,” Mr. Bunchea said.

The move from the Appeal Court is not connected to the December 19 appeal from the three victims against the decision by the Svay Rieng Provincial Court, whose handling of the case has incurred criticism from rights groups and international observers.

According to eyewitnesses, then-governor Mr. Bundith opened fire into a crowd of protesters during a demonstration at a Bavet City special economic zone on February 20, injuring three women. Mr. Bundith has never been detained, and the three victims have reported being approached by representatives of government officials—including Deputy Prime Minister Men Sam An—who asked them not to file complaints in exchange for money and gifts.

A takeover of a case initiated by the prosecutor general of the Appeal Court is “unusual” but it is possible that such a high-profile case would require such attention, said Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, noting that Mr. Savuth’s decision to appeal would lead to the case being reinvestigated.

“The Appeal Court will probably call the witnesses again and check the facts,” Mr. Sam Oeun said, adding that the provincial court’s decision has invited a lot of criticism given the eyewitness accounts implicating Mr. Bundith.

“If the government allows this to happen, then the people will lose a lot of faith, especially during election time and also with the international community [watching this],” he said.

“This is a political case,” he added. “We know that Chhouk Bundith has links with high-ranking officials and that’s why the top leaders must take the case very seriously.”

Sarey Bothchariya, a lawyer for the three victims, praised the Appeal Court for taking up the case.

“I think it’s good that the prosecutor general will look at the law on how the Svay Rieng Court deals with the case, and look at the procedures that the Svay Rieng Court used,” Ms. Bothchariya said.

One of the victims, Nuth Sokhorn, 24, expressed hope that she and her fellow plaintiffs will be able to get justice at the Appeal Court.

“The provincial court’s decision to drop the charge on Chhouk Bundith is a serious injustice, so I hope the Appeal Court can find justice and make him pay our compensation,” Ms. Sokhorn said.

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