The Supreme Court on Friday upheld the Court of Appeal’s sentencing in the case of former Bavet City governor Chhouk Bundith, who remains at large and was sentenced in absentia to 18 months in prison for shooting three factory workers at a protest in February 2012.
The three female workers appeared at the Supreme Court yesterday for the appeal hearing, seeking a harsher penalty for Mr. Bundith and an increase in their compensation from the combined $9,500 ordered by the Svay Rieng provincial court to a total of $140,000.
In November last year, the Court of Appeal upheld the provincial court’s verdict, which found that Mr. Bundith, then the governor of Bavet City, opened fire into a crowd of protesting workers at a special economic zone in the city, injuring the three women.
Explaining the decision to maintain the notably light sentencing, Appeal Court Judge Taing Sunlay said at the time that the shooting of the workers was clearly an accident.
“The court understands that Chhouk Bundith did not intend to shoot the three workers because he did not know those workers,” Judge Sunlay said.
On Friday, Supreme Court Judge Chan Raingsey said the country’s highest court agreed.
“The verdict of the Court of Appeal is upheld,” Judge Raingsey announced, adding that the victims’ request for additional compensation to pay for ongoing medical treatment in relation to their injuries was denied.
“[The court] understands that [the victims] are demanding compensation for the future, but the court could not consider this,” he said.
Two months after the shooting, Mr. Bundith was charged with the “unintentional” shooting of the three women.
But in December 2012, without explanation, the court dropped all the charges against the former governor, instead charging Bavet City police officer Sar Chantha with the shooting.
Amid public outcry and claims that Mr. Bundith was being protected by powerful patrons in the ruling CPP, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana in January 2013 ordered the Appeal Court to carry out a reinvestigation of the case.
A retrial at the provincial court then found Mr. Bundith guilty of unintentionally shooting the women, dismissing the same charges against Mr. Chantha, the police officer, and convicting him instead of illegal possession of weapons.
Judge Raingsey said yesterday that the conviction of Mr. Chantha was also upheld.
Sun Bunnarith, Mr. Bundith’s lawyer, said after the verdict that the “real facts” of the case had not been properly considered by the Supreme Court.
“My client Chhouk Bundith did not shoot the victims,” Mr. Bunnarith said. “By upholding the same verdict, the court did not consider the real facts. This is very unjust for my client.”
Mr. Bunnarith said he would consider his next step upon receiving the official verdict from the Supreme Court, adding that he had no idea where his client is hiding.
“I don’t know where he is,” Mr. Bunnarith said. “If I knew, I would call him to join the trial.”
Nuth Sakhorn, 25, who was among the workers shot by Mr. Bundith, said after Friday’s verdict that the man who fired a bullet into her back had avoided prison because of his powerful connections.
“I think that Mr. Chhouk Bundith has powerful people behind him,” she said. “They keep him out of prison. If he were a normal person, he would have been arrested a long time ago.”
Keo Nea, 22, another one of the workers shot by the former governor, said after the verdict that none of the country’s courts managed to deliver justice to her and her fellow victims.
“From the Svay Rieng Provincial Court, to the Court of Appeal, up to the Supreme Court, there still is no justice for us,” she said. “So I am hopeless, because we are poor.”
Ms. Nea said that almost three years after the incident, and with all legal avenues exhausted, she remained scared of the man who shot her.
“We are scared that Mr. Chhouk Bundith will come get revenge on us,” she said.
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