Three opposition party activists were yesterday sentenced to seven years in prison over their alleged roles in a 2014 anti-government protest at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park that turned violent.
The trio were convicted of “participating in an insurrection”, and will join another 11 CNRP supporters who were convicted last year over the demonstration.
“After discussion based on facts and laws, the trial council decides to sentence Roen Chetra, Yon Kimhour, and Yea Thong . . . to seven years in jail,” said judge Mong Mony Sophea.
The case has been widely decried as politically motivated.
Immediately after the sentence, Chetra, a youth member for the CNRP’s Tuol Kork branch, spoke up to compare the harsh verdict to the largely suspended sentence given last month to three soldiers from the prime minister’s Bodyguard Unit who had confessed to a vicious assault on two opposition lawmakers.
“Those who beat the lawmakers, broke their noses and arms, got four years and three of [those years] suspended,” Chetra said. “It is really unjust. There is no transparency, no independence in Cambodia’s courts.”
Yesterday’s defendants were arrested in August last year after Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly called for more arrests over the 2014 brawl, which left about 40 security guards and several protesters injured.
The unrest had followed an attempt by opposition members to reopen the then-barricaded Freedom Park, a focal point for peaceful anti-government protests that had been repeatedly and violently dispersed by Daun Penh district guards in the wake of the disputed 2013 elections.
During a two-day trial last month, all three men testified that the Daun Penh guards had instigated the violence.
Chetra had admitted to striking one guard while being attacked himself as he tried to help an injured friend. Kimhour told the court he had swung a flag pole at guards, but missed. Thong, however, maintained he had merely stopped at the demonstration to capture video.
About a dozen relatives yesterday burst into tears and moans after hearing the verdict. The trio’s lawyer, Sam Sokong, also compared the case to that of the Bodyguard Unit soldiers, who will be eligible for release in five months.
Sokong said that although both involved violence, the significant discrepancy in sentences was clearly influenced by politics. “If we look at the facts, they are criminal cases, but if we look beyond that, it is a political issue as they are politicians and CNRP activists,” he said, adding he would demand a retrial.