The last two opposition activists charged with inciting an “insurrection” during a protest of the 2013 general election were questioned yesterday at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, as the lawyer of the accused aired hope that the court would not compile enough evidence to sentence his clients.
The two opposition figures – Meach Sovannara, a senior official with the Cambodian National Rescue Party, and party activist Tep Narin – were questioned by judges Lim Makaron, Y Thavareak and Nou Veasna, along with deputy prosecutor Keo Socheat.
Although strong language was exchanged between the judges and defence lawyer, Choung Choungy, the judges and prosecutor allowed Sovannara to speak at length on his involvement in the violent July 15, 2014, protest near Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park that saw at least 39 security personnel and six demonstrators injured.
Judge Makaron grilled Sovannara on whether or not he went to the protest as a leader or participant, and if he took to the stage to make a speech.
“I joined as a Cambodian citizen to express [myself] and to ask for Freedom Park to be reopened,” he replied. “I made a speech for about five minutes. I did not do anything; I walked out.”
He admitted, though, that opposition lawmakers Mu Sochua and Ho Vann had also delivered addresses at the protest, but said he had not communicated with either beforehand.
Sovannara went on to clarify that he could not have possibly led an insurrection unless he had ordered people to disrupt public order, vandalise state property or attempt to topple the government.
“The court must not side with any group to guarantee its independence in the search for justice,” he said. “I hope that the court will find justice without political pressure.”
Sovannara had requested that the court return his passport, promising that he would not flee the country. Judge Makaron said, however, that they could not return the document immediately.
Narin echoed what the previous nine activists had told the court. He maintained that he joined the protest as a means of political expression, and that security personnel had incited the violence that occurred, a version of events corroborated by numerous witnesses.
After the trial, Choungy seemed confident that the court would not be able to convict his clients based on the available evidence.
“I noted in the trial today that it seems the court could not compile enough [evidence] to put the burden on my clients,” he said. “I recognise that there was violence near [Freedom Park], but I looked, and there was no insurrection.”
The trial is set to continue on June 29 with the 41 security personnel who are plaintiffs.