The Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday began the trial of five opposition activists charged with inciting an insurrection last year following the 2013 general election.
Judges and prosecutors grilled the opposition activists, claiming they knowingly entered Freedom Park despite it being closed at the time, and asked why they joined protests that had already turned violent at that point. Six other activists, including opposition information head Meach Sovannara, had their court appearances postponed until May 26.
One of those questioned was Khin Chumroeun, the president of the Cambodia National Rescue Party’s youth wing, who relayed his version of the events that took place last July, when a group of 39 security personnel were beaten while attempting to forcibly disperse a rally.
Chumroeun claimed that he saw about 1,000 people gathered near the park and spotted security forces with weapons when he told his students to “retreat” from the protest site.
“I walked on Naga Bridge . . . I told [my people], because I saw guards holding bats,” he told the court. “A security guard led others to beat people on Naga Bridge . . . I am a citizen, and I did not lead any insurrection. I just asked [them] to open Freedom Park.”
But deputy prosecutor Keo Socheat lingered on Chumroeun’s use of the word “retreat” in his testimony, which, Socheat insinuated, established him as the protesters’ leader. Chumroeun maintained, however, that he used that word only because he was afraid of a possible clash between citizens and security forces.
Ouk Pich Samnang, a tuk-tuk driver who supported the CNRP during the protests, also accused irregular security personnel of using violence against protestors, saying that they were “the third hand” set up by the state.
Judge Lim Makaron asked Samnang if he had joined the rally on his own volition.
“I went to join [the protest] with my tuk-tuk and microphone to express [myself]. I went on my own will,” he said. “I went there to implore leaders, especially the head of the government, to [open] Freedom Park.”
Choung Choungy, a lawyer for some of the accused, told reporters outside the court that he believed his clients would be acquitted.
Ties between the CNRP and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party have warmed significantly since the political upheaval that defined the period following the 2013 election, with CNRP head Sam Rainsy and Prime Minister Hun Sen propagating a newfound “culture of dialogue” to encourage bipartisanism and communication.
In addition to Chumroeun and Samnang, Oeur Narith, San Seyhak and Ke Khim also appeared for trial yesterday.