Court to Fast-Track Trial of ‘Insurrectionists’

A year after a protest at Freedom Park that turned violent and was labeled an attempted insurrection, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday announced that it would fast-track the trial of 11 men arrested in its aftermath and ordered them not to leave the country.

Thirty-nine government security guards are plaintiffs in the case and are each seeking thousands of dollars in reparations from the defendants: CNRP activists accused of inciting and carrying out violence during their protest to “Free the Freedom Park.”

Daun Penh district security chief Kim Vutha, center, and district guard Norm Phalla, left, leave the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Daun Penh district security chief Kim Vutha, center, and district guard Norm Phalla, left, leave the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Before beginning the second day of questioning the security guards—nine have now given their version of events—Presiding Judge Lim Makaron said the case would proceed under new conditions.

“The court does not allow the 11 defendants to leave Cambodia because the court will hold the trial every day until it is complete,” he said.

Choung Choungy, lead lawyer for the defendants, protested the decision, pointing to an August 5 doctor’s appointment in the U.S. for Meach Sovannara, chief of the CNRP’s information department, who was injured in a car crash in June. He also argued that he had other cases to work on, and could not guarantee that his clients would be attentive in court, but to no avail.

First on the stand for questioning Monday was Norm Phalla, a 50-year-old guard who said he was set upon by the activists after being ordered with a team of guards from Daun Penh district’s Phsar Thmei III commune to monitor the protest.

“I heard them shout that I was a third-hand person and a Yuon,” Mr. Phalla said, referring to those deployed to incite violence, and a term that can be used to racially vilify Vietnamese people, respectively.

“My right hand was broken and I was hit on my body and head until I lost consciousness,” he said.

Mr. Phalla, however, said he did not recognize the 11 defendants in the courtroom.

Mao Piseth, 45, the chief of Muoy village in Daun Penh’s Chey Chumneah commune, said he fell to the ground after being struck from behind with a stone shortly after arriving at the scene.

“I heard them shout, ‘Hit them until they die. They are the third hand,’” he said, adding that while the district security guards were armed with batons, he and other commune guards were not.

Ham Sareth, a district security guard, said a team of about 60 guards met at the district office at 6 a.m. before heading to the protest armed with batons.

He said he arrived at Freedom Park at 7:45 a.m. and that the protesters initiated the violence when the guards tore down a banner affixed to razor wire surrounding the park.

“I did not see the people [protesters] get injured, but many of our forces got injured,” he said.

The trial will continue Tuesday.

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