The last of three men belatedly charged over a 2014 protest that descended into violence at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park stood trial yesterday, telling the court he merely stopped at the opposition-led demonstration to film it and had in fact helped a security guard injured during the melee.
Yea Thong, 44, was among three men seized by police in August of last year, just hours after the prime minister in a public speech demanded more arrests in the widely criticised case, which has already seen 11 people convicted on “insurrection” charges.
Thong’s two co-accused – Yon Kimhour and Roeun Chetra – testified on May 5. Yesterday, lawyers for Thong and Kimhour demanded the court drop the charges of participating in an insurrection.
Chetra asked for a lesser charge.
Prior to the requests, Thong gave his recollection of July 15, 2014 – the day of the incident – telling the court he stopped to video the protest, which he came across after dropping his wife at work.
“I saw security guards had blocked protesters, beat them and a brawl had started,” he recalled. “Then a smoke bomb was fired from the west, where police stood. I saw one guard was beaten, so I took him inside the Ministry of Public Affairs compound.”
Prosecutor Keo Socheat, however, argued that Thong’s presence at the rally, where about 40 security guards were injured, was enough to convict him.
“He went into the park to film. But why did he film? So, he took part in the insurrection,” said Socheat, whose argument was strongly criticised by the defence.
During his testimony, Thong, who described himself as a “normal CNRP supporter”, said he believed his arrest was a case of mistaken identity, recalling that police had arrived at his house looking for a man named “Sitha” but had then taken him instead, despite not having a warrant.
“They came to look for Sitha, but they arrested me. I don’t understand why and I think they were confused,” he said. Thong also said he knew security guards who had seen him come to the aid of their colleague but had not asked the court to allow them to testify.
Judge Heng Sokna maintained that the defence’s time to present additional evidence had expired, though Thong’s attorney, Meng Sopheary, debated this, demanding that more witnesses, including the guards and 11 activists already convicted, be allowed to testify.
“This trial does not proceed smoothly according to the law. It does not guarantee justice for my client,” Sopheary said. However, after deliberating for 15 minutes, Sokna denied the request.
A verdict is due on June 13.