A judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court suspended the trial of an opposition activist Monday after the defendant demanded that his alleged victims face him in court and declared that his trial was a politicized sham.
In October, Ouk Pich Samnang drove his tuk-tuk into a line of metal barricades that was blocking a group of displaced farmers from Preah Vihear province from marching toward the prime minister’s house.
Police arrested Mr. Pich Samnang and charged him with joining a criminal association, damaging public property, obstructing authorities and committing intentional violence, alleging that five security guards had been injured by his actions.
In a tense court hearing Monday, deputy prosecutor Ly Sophanna and defense lawyer Chuong Choungy went head to head after Mr. Choungy suggested that provocateurs had instigated the violence at the October protest.
The deputy prosecutor interrupted Mr. Choungy to accuse him of speculation after the lawyer asked about the presence of a “third hand.”
Mr. Choungy replied: “When you asked questions, I did not disturb even one word,” before the defendant jumped in.
“I think the court will not be able to try me because [you are] always having arguments like this,” Mr. Pich Samnang burst out, interrupting both his lawyer and the prosecutor.
“A good person was abused through politics while idiots commit sins,” he continued. “Put us in prison happily and openly so it seems we are animals. Keep us suffering in prison.”
As the defendant settled down following a five-minute break called by Judge Im Vannak, Mr. Pich Samnang said he did not understand the meaning of the charge of joining a criminal association, and his defense called for the allegedly injured security guards to present their evidence in court.
“In order to guarantee that this is a clean trial with no false accusations…I strongly demand that the plaintiffs show up,” Mr. Choungy said.
Judge Vannak responded: “Justice can happen even without confrontation [between the plaintiffs and accused],” causing Mr. Pich Samnang to rise to his feet.
“The court has imprisoned me, but there is no plaintiff to face me,” he said. “If I don’t see the reality and [there are] only accusations, I don’t accept it.”
“Please, send me to the prison,” he said angrily. “Everybody, that is all, I will go to the prison. I will not let this court try me.”
Judge Vannak instructed the defendant to “listen,” but Mr. Pich Samnang refused: “I won’t listen. I cannot listen, because you brought me to be mixed up in a political matter.
“I would like to tell the court that if these five people are not here, you don’t need to bring me to the court.”
Mr. Sophanna said the plaintiffs had not been present due to “personal problems.” Judge Vannak did not announce a date for the next hearing.