SINGAPORE — The Cambodian judiciary has dropped charges against a town governor accused of shooting three garment-industry workers on strike, sparking protests from human-rights activists in the country.
According to sources, a court in the southeastern province of Svay Rieng this week dropped three charges of “causing harm without intent” against Chhouk Bandith, who at the time was the governor of a town in the province, citing insufficient evidence. Bandith had been facing the charges for his alleged shooting, on Feb. 20, of three female employees of Kaoway Sports Ltd., a Taiwanese-owned factory that produces items for Puma. One of the three workers was hospitalized in intensive care, and two suffer from lingering health problems associated with the shooting, said Moeun Tola, head of the labor program at the Community Legal Education Center, a local rights group.
The failure to prosecute Bandith, the main suspect in the shootings, has drawn ire from Cambodian activists who had previously expressed disappointment that Bandith was not charged for the more serious crime of premeditated murder.
“If you look at the background of the case, it is impossible to say it was a case of unintentional injury,” said Tola, who helped organize an independent investigation into the shootings.
“We call on Puma and other brands in Cambodia to urge the government to bring the real perpetrators for prosecution,” he said.
Others went further. “Puma [has] no choice now but to pull out of Cambodia completely,” said Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. “Otherwise, consumers in Europe will not forgive them and their brand will be forever stained with the blood of these poor garment workers.”
Puma said Wednesday that it was “disappointed that justice has not been brought about almost a year after the crime was committed” and would “provide help in kind to the three women affected by the random shooting to alleviate their situation.”
A Puma spokeswoman confirmed that the German label still sources from Kaoway Sports. Legal representatives for Bandith, who has been removed from his position as governor, weren’t available for comment.
According to Tola, the victims intend to appeal the decision to drop charges.