The trial of the 11 opposition activists charged with “joining an insurrection” for their presence at a July 15 protest demanding authorities reopen Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park continued in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday.
Seven opposition lawmakers and 11 activists were jailed after last year’s protest, which descended into a street brawl when the demonstrators fought back against notoriously violent government security guards who had for months terrorized their protests.
The lawmakers gained immunity from prosecution when they swore in to the National Assembly the following month, but the 11 activists had their first trial hearing last month.
Four of the 11 were questioned at the second session Tuesday, each telling the panel of three judges that they believed the brawl was sparked by the guards and denying the charges against them.
“I saw the people carrying national flags and I saw the security guards distributing wooden batons from the back of a Daun Penh district truck,” said Khin Chamroeun, chief of the CNRP’s youth wing in Phnom Penh.
“The people were not occupying the Naga Bridge area, they just went to demand that Freedom Park be freed.”
Another of the activists, Ke Khim, a tuk-tuk driver who often appears at protests in Phnom Penh but says he is not a member of the CNRP, denied he was taking part in an “insurrection” against the government on July 15.
“I didn’t know why the people went there but I heard information from the newspaper and radios, so I just joined there to use my freedom in a democratic society,” he said.
Yet Mr. Khim acknowledged that he had armed himself with a rock “for a short time” when the fighting broke out.
“When the situation had chaos, I carried a piece of stone to defend myself because I was scared someone would hit me, especially when I saw a few of the authorities’ spies walking and following me,” he said.
Ouk Pich Samnang, another of the arrested activists, said he believed plainclothes provocateurs had been employed by the state to start the fight.
“The police and military police do not dare to hit the people in public, because they are afraid to violate human rights, so they hire the third-hand group created by the state and the districts of Phnom Penh,” he said.
CNRP member San Seyhak, the last of the activists questioned Tuesday, said he did not join the fight.
“I received the voice of Khin Chamroeun through the walkie-talkie to ‘withdraw’ and that meant ‘do not join the violence,’” Mr. Seyhak said. “I was far away from the violent place, so I do not know who fought each other.”
Presiding Judge Lim Makaron said the trial will continue Tuesday.