In the fourth session of the trial of 11 opposition CNRP activists charged with “joining an insurrection” over a July protest that turned violent, the three defendants questioned by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday said they were present at the demonstration, but were only spectators to the fighting.
On July 15, hundreds of CNRP supporters descended on Freedom Park, which had been heavily secured and closed off during a government ban on protests, in an attempt to have it reopened. Clashes broke out between protesters and notoriously violent Daun Penh district security guards.
In court Wednesday, Soum Puthy, a Chbar Ampov district councilor for the CNRP, said he was in the area of the “Free the Freedom Park” demonstration, but was standing about 150 meters from the Naga Bridge, on the park’s eastern fringe.
Due to the distance, Mr. Puthy said, he could not clearly see the events unfold.
“I just saw security guards fighting the people with bats and then the people attacked back,” he said. “After that I saw both security guards and the people had been injured.”
The government says that some 39 security guards were injured in the protest.
Neang Sokhun, a CNRP Youth leader in Chbar Ampov district, told the court that he too attended the protest, but only so that he could take photographs.
“I just went to take photos there to post on my Facebook account,” he said, adding that he also did not have a clear view of the clashes. “I did not see the violence clearly because at that time I went to hide at the Naga Bridge.”
The third activist questioned Wednesday, An Paktham, a member of the CNRP Youth in Phnom Penh, said he also only attended the demonstration to take Facebook photos.
Unlike his co-defendants, however, Mr. Paktham said he clearly saw the brawl between protesters and security, even after he claimed he was hit with tear gas.
“I saw security guards and the people scuffling with each other, but I did not know who attacked first,” he said.
“I saw wooden bats and flag poles dropped on the ground. I saw NGO officials cleaning blood off injured people. I saw both security guards and [other] people injured.”
Speaking to reporters after the trial, Sam Sokong, a lawyer for six of the 11 activists, said he questioned the impartiality of the court.
“The judges’ questions were imbalanced,” he said. “They just asked accusatory questions. I think that their decision will not give justice for all the defendants or my clients.”
Presiding Judge Lim Makaron said hearings will continue on June 10.