The whereabouts of Chhouk Bundith, the former Bavet governor who was on Tuesday sentenced in absentia to 18 months in prison for shooting and injuring three garment workers during a protest, was still unknown Wednesday, as rights groups slammed the government for its failure to arrest him.
The Svay Rieng Provincial Court found the former governor guilty of causing unintentional injury in the 2012 shooting, in a verdict that has been criticized as being far too light, and that many say indicates the high levels of impunity in the case.
On Tuesday, presiding Judge Leang Sour called for Chhouk Bundith’s immediate arrest, but law enforcement officials were divided Wednesday on whether they were actively seeking the convicted man.
“Now we are working on arresting him but right now I still don’t know where he is,” said provincial police chief Koeng Khorn, who confirmed receipt of an arrest warrant.
The spokesmen for both the National Police and the Military Police said neither had received an arrest warrant and that they could not look to arrest Chhouk Bundith without one.
“When the court delivers the summons to us, then we will search for him,” military police spokesman Brigadier General Kheng Tito said. “If we know where he is, we would arrest him.”
Labor rights groups who have been closely following the case said whether Chhouk Bundith is arrested or not depends, ultimately, on political will.
“There is no question that the sentence was meager and the duration of the sentence…is directly related to his political position and political connections,” said Dave Welsh, country head of the Solidarity Center, a U.S.-based organization advocating for labor rights.
“Now that a sentence has been handed down, it would be crucial that he is arrested,” he added.
Moeun Tola, labor program head of the Community Legal Education Center, which provided legal aid to the three victims, agreed.
“I believe this depends on their will. If they want to arrest him, they would have [already],” Mr. Tola said.
He compared it to the case of anti-eviction activist Yorm Bopha, who was sentenced to three years in prison, with one year suspended by the Court of Appeal, for allegedly inciting an assault in a case that rights groups have said was politically motivated.
“People can see clearly that there is a double standard in Cambodia between human rights defenders and Chhouk Bundith,” he said.