The final two defendants being sued by Daun Penh district security guards over a 2014 clash at Freedom Park denied the insurrection charges against them Wednesday during their hearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
Seven CNRP lawmakers and 11 party activists were jailed after a July 15 protest calling on the government to reopen the park turned into a brawl when some of the demonstrators fought back against the notoriously violent security guards. The lawmakers were spared prosecution by their parliamentary immunity, but the activists have been on trial since April.
Taking the stand Wednesday, Meach Sovannara, who heads the CNRP’s information department, said in his defense that he had urged the demonstrators to remain nonviolent on the morning of the protest, and was not in the crowd when the fighting actually broke out.
“I told the people that we must hold the protest peacefully, and please don’t use violence. Because I am an intellectual, I hate violence and always tell people to love each other,” he said.
Mr. Sovannara said he left the gathering after his speech and was at his car, about 60 meters away, when he saw the fighting start.
“I went to express my opinion, but I did not join as a leader,” he said.
“I don’t understand why the court accuses me of insurrection,” he added. “Insurrection is a very serious charge.”
Tep Narin, a member of one of the opposition’s youth groups, told the court that the security guards were the aggressors that day.
“I went because I wanted the authorities to free Freedom Park, because it is a place where people can express themselves,” he said. “I saw the security guards fight the people with batons, and the people just defended themselves. When they were scuffling with each other, the security guards were holding batons and the people had no weapons; some people were just holding flag poles.”
“I swear on my life, the people did not have batons,” he said.
The hearing briefly turned tense while Kao Seyha, one of Mr. Sovannara’s lawyers, was questioning him about the logic of the insurrection charge laid against him. Judge Y Thavrak ordered Mr. Seyha to cease his line of questioning because he deemed it irrelevant, and the two men argued for a few minutes until presiding Judge Lim Makaron intervened.
Speaking with reporters after the hearing, Choung Choungy, another of the defendants’ lawyers, said the insurrection charges were preposterous.
“I recognize that there was violence at Freedom Park, but it was not insurrection,” he said.
The other defendants have also denied the charges against them. Questioning of the 39 security guards suing the activists will begin on June 29.