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Trial over Freedom Park brawl begins

The trial of 11 opposition members and activists accused of “insurrection” over violent protests related to the disputed 2013 election began at Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday.

The group appeared before Judge Lim Makaron to face charges stemming from the demonstration on July 15 last year in which Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers led supporters to demand access to the then barricaded Freedom Park.

The men, including CNRP’s head of information and dual Cambodian-American Meach Sovannara, are accused of instigating a brawl which left 39 security guards and at least six protesters injured. Five of the men remain in detention and all face between 20 and 30 years’ jail if found guilty in the case which has been labelled politically motived

The alleged weapons – pipes attached to CNRP and Cambodian flags – were displayed in the court.

Accused Oeur Narith, an assistant to Cambodian CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, told the court he was trying to help security guards being attacked amid the disorder.

“I had nothing in my hands except my bag,” he said. “I then saw a heavily built security guard being bashed at Seven Bright restaurant. I screamed not to use violence. I helped him.”

Narith said he followed lawmaker Mu Sochua to ask authorities to “release Freedom Park for people to use” and stated the orange cloths worn by protesters on the day were “a symbol of freedom”.

A second accused, Khin Chumreun, confirmed he attended a meeting on July 14 to plan the demonstration but said he had nothing to do with the violence. “As a youth leader, I only tell my youth help to monitor, not to let violence happen,” he said.

Cheng Peng Hab, a lawyer for the security guards, disputed their clams.

The hearing, which followed an unsuccessful bail application for two of the accused, was adjourned until April 20.

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