Bundith Gets ‘Slap on the Wrist’ for Triple Shooting

Seventeen months after Chhouk Bundith opened fire into a crowd of angry protesters, the Svay Rieng Provincial Court on Tuesday sentenced the former Bavet City governor to just 18 months in jail for shooting and injuring three female garment workers.

Announcing the verdict in court, Judge Leang Sour called for Chhouk Bundith’s immediate arrest, and ordered him to pay compensation of some $9,500 to the three factory workers, one of which sustained a perforated lung in the shooting.

The three victims—Bun Chenda, Nuth Sokhorn and Keo Nea —will receive $5,000, $2,500 and $2,000, respectively.

While the court found Chhouk Bundith guilty of the triple shooting, it ruled that he was only responsible for “unintentionally” causing injuries to the three workers.

“The court decided that Chhouk Bundith was guilty based on the testimony of witnesses and evidence which proves that he really shot at the victims,” Judge Sour said. “We are ordering his immediate arrest and detention.”

Despite the severity of the crime, Chhouk Bundith has never been detained, he did not attend his trial and his current whereabouts is not known.

Although the court ordered Chhouk Bundith’s “immediate” arrest, police officials on Tuesday did not appear to have the same sense of urgency.

“We will arrest him when we get the court’s arrest warrant, but now we have not yet received it,” said Keo Kong, Bavet City police chief. “I don’t know where he is,” he added.

National police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said authorities would arrest him “as soon as possible,” but that his location was currently unknown.

“I don’t know [where he is], but we will take measures according to the court,” he said.

The Community Legal Education Center (CLEC), a legal aid group, and local rights group Licadho said in a joint statement that the sentence was far too light for a crime, which they termed as “attempted triple-homicide.”

In a statement Tuesday, local rights group Adhoc said: “The nature of his conviction and the fact that he is still not in jail demonstrate the pliability of Cambodia’s judiciary to the will of the rich and well-connected,” adding that Chhouk Bundith should have been sentenced under the charge of attempted murder.

“The sentence against him does not reflect his crimes, and the fact that he remains at large means justice has still not been served in this case,” the statement says.

Evidence against Chhouk Bundith largely came from Long Phorn, deputy police chief of Bavet’s Prasat commune, who testified both at the Appeal Court and in the Svay Rieng court that he saw the former governor intentionally shooting into the crowd of protesting workers.

“The message is: Scapegoats and activists get large sentences, even if they didn’t commit a crime, while well-connected individuals get a slap on the wrist—no matter what their crime,” Moeun Tola, head of CLEC’s labor program, said in the statement.

Chhouk Bundith’s light sentence stands in contrast to the December conviction of anti-eviction activist Yorm Bopha, who was sentenced to three years in prison, with one year suspended by the Court of Appeal, for inciting the assault of a single man, in a case that rights groups have said was politically motivated.

Human rights groups have said the case surrounding the former Bavet City governor has been fraught with political interference.

Chhouk Bundith, who was initially named the main suspect in the shooting, had all charges against him dropped by the Svay Rieng court in December, citing insufficient evidence.

But the Justice Ministry then ordered the Court of Appeal to re-investigate the case, and in March the court re-imposed the charges against Chhouk Bundith and sent his case back to the provincial court.

Ulf Santjer, corporate communications director of German sports brand Puma—whose clothing is manufactured by the factory where the three victims are still employed—said he was pleased a verdict was reached, but declined to comment on “the fairness of the trial.”

The court on Tuesday also revised the charges against Bavet City police officer Sar Chantha who was charged with unintentional injury in the same case in August. The court sentenced him to six months in prison with a fine of 1 million riel, or about $250, for illegally possessing a weapon.

“He was not involved with the shooting but he used an unregistered weapon,” Judge Sour said. “We did not order an arrest warrant for him because the sentence is less than a year.”

Mon Keosivin, Sar Chantha’s lawyer, criticized the provincial court’s verdict, explaining that his client was not present during the shooting and that he never fired his gun.

“When the court took a pistol belonging to my client for examination, they failed to take Bundith’s pistol to examine because they claimed Bundith’s pistol was lost,” he said, adding that he would appeal the court’s verdict for his client.

Ms. Sokhorn, who was wounded in the back and in her arm by Chhouk Bundith, also said the court’s sentence for the former governor was inadequate.

“I wanted him to get a life sentence, as what he got was minimal,” Ms. Sokhorn said.

“The court should have charged him with attempted murder,” said Chin Lyda, the lawyer for the three victims.

Mao Samvutheary, Chhouk Bundith’s lawyer—who was not present during the three-day hearing or the announcement of the verdict—declined to comment.

(Additional reporting by Dene-Hern Chen)

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