Governor Free to Go After Admits to Firing Gun

Despite admitting yesterday to firing his pistol during last month’s protest at a Svay Rieng province special economic zone (SEZ), where three women were shot, Bavet City’s former governor Chhuk Bundith was free to return home after making his confession to the court.

“[Mr. Bundith] came to answer me face-to-face and confessed that he came to the demonstration to negotiate [with protesting workers] and he shot into the air,” Svay Rieng Provincial Court Prosecutor Hing Bunchea said.

When asked whether Mr. Bundith had confessed that the bullets he fired from his gun had hit the three women protesters, Mr. Bunchea declined to comment.

“Now, he has gone back home,” the prosecutor added.

Mr. Bundith had been scheduled to appear today for questioning over accusations that he had shot the three women during the Feb. 20 protest at Manhattan SEZ.

Instead, the former governor quietly slipped in and out of the provincial court yesterday after the prosecutor agreed to meet with him a day earlier.

Mr. Bunchea said that the suspect’s defense lawyer was too busy to meet today, which is why he agreed to conduct the questioning yesterday.

Mr. Bunchea identified Mr. Bundith’s lawyer as Mao Samvutheary, but when contacted, Ms. Samvutheary said she was “not in charge of this case,” and hung up on a reporter.

The next people to be summoned will be the injured women who were allegedly shot by Mr. Bundith, Mr. Bunchea added. Two of the three women who were shot during the Feb. 20 protest lodged complaints with the court against Mr. Bundith on Tuesday.

As the court questioned Mr. Bundith yesterday, international and local human rights groups kept up the pressure on the government, releasing statements urging a transparent investigation free of political interference and to make the arrest of the SEZ shooter “an utmost priority.”

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), which represents 164 rights groups in over 100 countries, and the Bangkok-based Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development sent an open letter to Interior Minister Sar Kheng and Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana decrying the slow pace of the investigation and the continued freedom of Mr. Bundith.

“Although the Minister of Interior, Mr. Sar Kheng, has said publicly that Mr. Bundith was the sole suspect, the Court – under the direction of provincial chief prosecutor Hing Bunchea — declined to issue an arrest warrant,” FIDH said in the letter.

“We deeply regret that the exercise of the fundamental right to freedom of assembly has been severely violated by the use of excessive force, which resulted in the serious injuries of three of the demonstration’s participants,” the letter added.

Commenting on Mr. Bundith’s continued freedom after confessing to using his handgun to the prosecutor, FIDH’s Asean representative Shiwei Ye said the saga demonstrated a lack of respect for the rule of law.

“This raises serious concerns regarding the investigation process where a serious crime was committed but the perpetrator is allowed to roam free…and there’s a risk for the victims to be further harassed,” said Mr. Ye.

A separate statement signed by 32 members of Cambodian civil society, including local rights groups and workers unions, also issued a statement calling on the government to find justice for the injured women.

“The young workers of the Cambodian garment industry, including the three women who were shot, are the foundation upon which one of Cambodia’s only viable export sectors stand,” the statement said.

“They support the weight of this developing country on their shoulders. They deserve better. They deserve dignity and justice.”

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