A police officer who testified at the Appeal Court to seeing former Bavet City governor Chhouk Bundith shoot at workers during a protest last year said on Friday that he had received threats from his superior for speaking out, and that he now feared for his safety.
Long Phorn, the 45-year-old deputy police chief of Bavet City’s Prasat commune, took the stand at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh on Thursday in a closed-door investigation into whether Mr. Bundith shot into the crowd of protesting workers outside a Puma factory in Svay Rieng province on February 20, 2012, injuring three young women.
Mr. Phorn told the court that he saw Mr. Bundith shoot into the crowd and that he had then seen a protester slump to the ground. Twenty other police officers present at the shooting, and who also gave testimony on Thursday, told the court that they heard the shots, but did not see who had fired them.
According to witnesses at the hearing, Mr. Bundith admitted in court to firing his pistol during the protest, but claimed that he did not know where the bullets went.
On Friday, Mr. Phorn said his superiors called him by phone and demanded to know why he testified in the case that pits the widely suspected Mr. Bundith against the three female victims, and a fellow Bavet City police officer, Sar Chantha, who was charged with the triple shooting late last year after charges were unexpectedly dropped against Mr. Bundith.
“My superior blamed me,” Mr. Phorn said by phone from Svay Rieng province, without elaborating as to what had been said exactly and by which of his superior.
“I am now concerned about my safety and that of my family,” Mr. Phorn said.
“I must tell the truth, because I swore an oath to the spirits already, so I am afraid my whole family will die [if I lied to the court],” Mr. Phorn said, referring to the oath taken by witnesses.
“I don’t want to see injustice,” he added.
Mr. Chantha, the police officer charged with shooting the three workers and causing unintentional injury, said Mr. Phorn’s safety was a concern.
“But I don’t know what I can do,” said Mr. Chantha, who strenuously denies the charge against him, claiming that he was at another factory at the time of the shooting.
Svay Rieng provincial police chief Koeng Khorn said that Mr. Phorn had nothing to worry about—if he testified truthfully.
“If [Mr. Phorn] answered truthfully, we will support him.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak declined to comment on the reported threat against the provincial police officer, instead querying the veracity of the officer’s Appeal Court testimony.
“We don’t know if he answered with the truth or not—it depends on the court to decide,” he said.
The government must ensure that Mr. Phorn is given “adequate protection,” said Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Center.
“As a citizen, we always hope witnesses can testify against powerful interests and persons,” Mr. Virak said.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for local rights group Licadho, said his organization would reach out to Mr. Phorn.
“We will look out for his safety and if he has a problem with it because of telling the truth, we will help him face the law,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Lauren Crothers)