In Court, Lawyers Spar Over Activists’ Actions at Protest

A prosecutor at the trial of opposition activist Ouk Pich Samnang on Tuesday asked the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to drop charges of joining a criminal association and damaging public property but keep those of obstructing authorities and intentional violence.

Mr. Pich Samnang, a common face at protests in Phnom Penh, was arrested in October after driving his tuk-tuk into barricades set up to block protesters from marching to the prime minister’s home. Police say he injured five security guards in the act.

Municipal court deputy prosecutor Ly Sophana told the court Tuesday that there was not enough evidence to support the charges of criminal association and damaging public property, but that the other charges should stand.

“According to the victims who presented to the trial…that they got injuries caused by the acts and leadership of Mr. Ouk Pich Samnang, which caused chaos and fighting causing the five victims to get injured, the acts can be considered intentional violence with aggravating circumstances,” he said.

During the trial, the judge questioned a district security guard, 26-year-old Neang Somakara, who said his right hand, left hand and ankle were injured during Mr. Pich Samnang’s protest, and that he had spent $400 on medical fees.

“Did Mr. Ouk Pich Samnang hit you?” Presiding Judge Im Vannak asked of Mr. Somakara.

“No,” replied the security guard. “He did not hit me, but he led the people [to do so].”

Each of the four other injured guards offered identical accounts. Five minutes of video of the October protest was also presented, but only showed Mr. Pich Samnang standing on top of his tuk-tuk speaking through a microphone.

After Kim Vutha, chief of the Daun Penh district security guards, told the court he was not sure how his five guards got injured on the day of the protest, defense lawyer Choung Choungy said that all charges should be dropped.

“Who is clearer than the five victims, when there is no one among the five victims who said Mr. Ouk Pich Samnang hit them?” Mr. Choungy said.

A verdict in the case is set to be handed down on September 10.

Last month, Mr. Pich Samnang was sentenced to seven years for “joining an insurrection” over last year’s July 15 Freedom Park protest.

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