The Court of Appeal yesterday heard the case of 11 former activists and officials of the opposition CNRP party for their involvement in an insurrection during a protest to demand access to Freedom Park following the disputed 2013 election.
Meach Sovannara, former information department head of now-dissolved CNRP, and ten activists were found guilty of leading and participating in an insurrection after a violent clash between party supporters and Daun Penh district security guards at Freedom Park on July 15, 2014.
Mr Sovannara was charged and convicted of incitement at Freedom Park in July 2015. The Cambodian-US citizen was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced the ten others to between seven and 20 years’ imprisonment.
During the hearing yesterday, Mr Sovannara challenged the security guards to tell the truth and to pinpoint those committing the violence against them.
“I was a scholar. I have never told people to use violence,” Mr Sovannara said. “If ‘Person A’ beat you, you cannot point at ‘Person B’ instead.”
One of the 11 defendants, Soum Puthy, a former Meanchey district councilor, also denied that he was involved in beating the security guards.
“I would like to reject what the court has charged me of because I did not commit it at all. I just came to visit the place,” Mr Puthy said, adding that he came to Freedom Park to witness what happened.
Defence lawyer Sam Sokorng said that the court should drop charges against his clients.
“My clients did not commit an insurrection as accused. We admitted the violence happened during the demonstration, but my clients did not commit it,” Mr Sokorng said.
The violence near Freedom Park resulted in injuries to 39 security guards and ten protesters. Five security guards were seriously injured.
One of the plaintiffs, Mao Piseth, a Srah Chak commune security guard, told the court yesterday that on that day he was ordered by his superior to help direct traffic at Freedom Park and began running away after seeing a smoke bomb used to disperse the protesters.
“When I walked to my motorbike with my colleague, they threw stones at me, hitting my hand. They used sticks to hit my neck and my mouth,” Mr Piseth said. “But I don’t know actually who beat me.”
Presiding Judge Plang Samnang said the hearing will continue today.