Chhouk Bandith surrendered to authorities over a conviction relating to shooting three female garment workers during a protest. Many saw his evasion of the sentence as symptomatic of an untouchable elite in the country.
Ex-governor Chhouk Bandith of Bavet town, convicted in abstentia in 2013, turned himself into police Saturday after more than two years on the run. But this was only after Cambodian Prime Minister Hu Sen called for his arrest.
The former governor turned himself in for arrest in the capital, Phnom Penh, according to Cambodia’s national police.
“We have Chhouk Bandith, and we are transferring him to Svay Rieng provincial court to get further legal procedures underway,” city police chief General Chuon Sovann told Reuters news agency.
Initially, Bandith was neither arrested nor charged for firing into a crowd of 1,000 protesters and wounding three women in 2012. But following widespread outcry, he was handed an18-month jail sentence for causing “unintentional injuries,” a sentence that rights groups criticized as too soft – and as indicative of Cambodia’s elite class who flout the law.
During sentencing, Bundith was stripped of his post as governor and ordered to pay $9,500 (8,660 euro) in compensation to the three victims, who were employed at a factory supplying German sportswear giant Puma.
Cambodia’s troubled garment industry
Cambodia’s multi-billion dollar textile industry – which supplies international brands including Gap, Nike and H&M – is a key source of foreign income for the impoverished nation.
But its 700,000 garment workers routinely demonstrate against low wages and poor working conditions.
Rights groups had criticized the jail term as lenient and said he should have been charged with attempted murder. It was not immediately clear if the former governor would face further charges for avoiding arrest.
Activists welcomed the ex-official’s arrest, but said the fact that he had managed to avoid detention for years until the country’s top politician said otherwise highlights the power of the prime minister to meddle in the country’s justice system, which they say is also used to stifle opponents.
“The message Hun Sen wants to send is that his word is magical,” Moeun Tola, a labor activist with the Community Legal Education Center, told Reuters.
jar/gsw (AFP, Reuters, AP)