The trial of 11 men arrested on insurrection charges after an anti-government protest turned into a brawl in 2014 continued Tuesday, with four of the security guards who were allegedly beaten giving testimony for the first time.
Seven members of the Daun Penh district security force and their boss, Kim Vutha, sat in the Phnom Penh Municipal Court gallery as lawyers for the accused questioned them over the events of July 15 last year, when a protest spiraled into mayhem after the guards tore down a banner reading “Free the Freedom Park.”
The guards—known to use excessive and indiscriminate force against peaceful protesters—laughed at lawyers, spoke throughout proceedings and showed a general disregard for the court that drew reprimand from the judges.
Ouk Kongkea, 28, gave testimony first, saying that he had gone to the area where the clash occurred to direct traffic when he was set upon by the protesters, who were asking the city to remove razor wire and police from Freedom Park.
When Consulting Judge Nou Veasna asked Mr. Kongkea who had assaulted him, he turned and pointed to Ouk Pich Samnang, a tuk-tuk driver and opposition activist who took part in the protest.
Enraged, Mr. Pich Samnang stood up and pointed at the plaintiff—one of 39 security guards suing the 11 charged men—as the judge intervened.
“Are you confused, or what?” Judge Veasna asked Mr. Kongkea.
“Yes, I am confused,” he replied, retracting his accusation.
Presiding Judge Lim Makaron then scolded the security guard for his behavior in the courtroom.
“This is the trial time. It is not the time for you to come and smile,” the judge said.
Kim Det, 30, and Yul Prech, 26, were also unable to identify their attackers.
“Look back. Look. Who hit you?” Judge Veasna asked Mr. Prech, motioning toward the 11 defendants, who all spent months in pre-trial detention.
“I do not remember because they wore helmets and face masks and I also wore a helmet,” Mr. Prech said.
Despite being deployed numerous times to violently crush protests in the months prior to the Freedom Park “insurrection,” the plaintiffs said they had not been ordered to hit the demonstrators on July 15.
When a lawyer for the defendants asked Mr. Prech if he would follow orders to use violence, deputy prosecutor Keo Socheat intervened, saying it was an inappropriate question. Judge Veasna agreed.
Outside the court, Khim Pov, 38, the last plaintiff to give testimony, expressed regret over the events of July 15 and also his decision in 2000 to stop selling ice cream at Central Market and join the Daun Penh security guards.
He said that he was angered that the police who were fortifying Freedom Park did nothing to intervene when the demonstrators fought back and overwhelmed the guards.
“I feel regret because we work as security guards and when we got beaten up, no one came to help us,” Mr. Pov said. “I might resign after the case is solved.”