Freedom Park Defendant Denies Fighting Back

One of three men whose arrests were ordered by Prime Minister Hun Sen last year for taking part in an opposition protest in July 2014 that turned violent said during his trial on Tuesday that he was only photographing the chaos and had even helped an injured security guard.

Yea Thong, a 44-year-old motorbike salesman, was arrested in August alongside Yon Kimhour, 29, and Roen Chetra, 33, in the weeks after the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced 11 others to between seven and 20 years in prison for the protest at Freedom Park.

Mr. Kimhour and Mr. Chetra told the court last month that they had only fought back against the notoriously violent Daun Penh district security guards after being hit, but Mr. Thong said on Tuesday that he had never engaged in any violence during the event.

“I just took pictures,” Mr. Thong told Presiding Judge Mong Mony Sorphea, who opened proceedings by offering a lighter sentence if the defendant pled guilty to charges of “joining an insurrection.”

Unconvinced by Mr. Thong’s claim that he had stumbled on the protest while driving his wife to work and felt compelled to photograph it, Judge Mony Sorphea asked: “Did you not join in pushing people?”

“I did not push anything,” Mr. Thong replied. “I saw they were beating each other, and I saw a security guard fall near me. I helped stop people beating him and helped carry him to the Public Works Ministry.”

Consulting Judge Heng Sokna took over the questioning, asking Mr. Thong why he had felt compelled to photograph the protest.

“I just took them for fun, for friends at my workplace to see the incident,” Mr. Thong said.

“Why did they arrest you for just taking videos?” Judge Sokna asked.

Mr. Thong, who was arrested more than a year after the protest took place, said it was a question that he was unable to answer.

“There might have been a misunderstanding, because I helped a security guard who fell near the car and brought him to the Public Works Ministry,” Mr. Thong said.

Mr. Thong’s lawyers asked for the charges against him to be dropped.

However, a lack of evidence has not stopped the court from handing down guilty verdicts against others charged in the case.

Videos showed CNRP official Meach Sovannara along with other party leaders at the scene calling for the violence to end after it broke out. Mr. Sovannara, a U.S. citizen, was nevertheless handed a 20-year sentence for “leading an insurrection.”

The notorious security guards had for months brutalized opposition protesters attempting to gather in Freedom Park behind CNRP public affairs chief Mu Sochua, striking them with truncheons. The July 2014 protest was the first time anyone fought back.

When asked in court on Tuesday by his own lawyer who he believed had started the violence, Mr. Thong said it was the security guards, who were unable to stop protesters from placing banners. “When the security guards could not stop them, they started to beat the demonstrators, and it led to the violence,” Mr. Thong said.

A verdict is due in the case on June 13.

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