Three More Charged Over Freedom Park Protest

Three more opposition activists were charged with “joining an insurrection” Wednesday for taking part in a CNRP-led protest that turned violent last year, with two being sent to Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison and a third detained overnight at municipal police headquarters.

In an act the opposition party described as a political threat, the municipal court took little time Wednesday morning to lay the charges against Yon Kimhour, 28, and Roeun Chetra, 33, who were arrested late Tuesday, said their lawyer, Sam Sokong.

Roeun Chetra, left, and Yon Kimhour are escorted into the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday prior to being charged with joining an insurrection. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Roeun Chetra, left, and Yon Kimhour are escorted into the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday prior to being charged with joining an insurrection. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“They have been charged with joining an insurrection,” he said. “Our clients told the court they had participated in a peaceful demonstration and did not commit a crime or cause violence like the court has charged.”

Mr. Sokong said the judge showed video footage of his clients at the demonstration, in which CNRP activists hit back at government security guards during a protest near Freedom Park, severely beating a number of the uniformed men.

“The judge showed a video clip that my clients were holding flags but they did not use any sticks to make violence,” he said. “Their evidence was the video clip. They arrested people according to that video clip.”

In the afternoon, a third man—identified as Yea Thong by acting CNRP spokesman Ou Chanrith—was also arrested and later charged, according to police.

“We arrested one more person, and we are questioning him and will send him to the court soon,” Eng Sorphea, chief of the municipal police’s serious crimes bureau, said before the charges were laid against the third activist.

“We are also looking to arrest two more people.”

Mr. Sokong, the lawyer, said Mr. Thong was also charged Wednesday with joining an insurrection by the municipal court and placed in provisional detention.

Late last month, the municipal court handed down a sudden decision giving prison sentences of between seven and 20 years to 11 other CNRP activists and officials who were present at the protest.

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said he believed the sentences were a warning to the CNRP to end its campaign to uncover Vietnamese incursions into Cambodian territory, but the government has denied the sentences were political.

On Monday, Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly appealed for the police and courts to continue arresting those who attended last year’s protest, warning the CNRP that he had many videos showing who was there.

The protest marked the first time that opposition protesters fought back against the helmeted government guards, who had become notorious for their brutal methods of dispersing crowds in order to enforce a government edict against public gatherings.

Seven CNRP lawmakers, who at the time had yet to take their National Assembly seats as part of a boycott of parliament, were arrested in the days after but were released within the week after the July 22 political deal was struck between Mr. Hun Sen and Mr. Rainsy.

Outside the municipal court Wednesday, Mr. Kimhour and Mr. Chetra, the two activists arrested Tues- day night, denied any role in the violence.

“I believe that the charge is politically motivated. I want all levels of the institutions to help me because I do not know anything,” Mr. Kimhour said.

“It’s not true. We ask the party leaders to help,” Mr. Chetra said. “I joined the demonstration but did not make violence.”

In a statement, the CNRP called for the activists’ “unconditional release” as well as for the “immediate end of the use of the court system to charge and arrest [people] in order to threaten CNRP activists performing their work.”

Mr. Chanrith, the acting CNRP spokesman, said the arrests of three more activists after last month’s sentences threatened to undermine the political detente between the opposition and ruling parties.

“The series of arrests has violated the agreement that was signed on July 22, 2014, between the CPP and CNRP in order to end the political tension through stopping the arrests by using the court system,” Mr. Chanrith said.

“If this tension continues, it will not benefit Cambodian society,” he said. “It will impact on all people, on investors, and on the economy, and therefore, for the sake of the nation, the CPP and the courts need to reconsider.”

CPP spokesman Sok Eysan said the decision was the court’s alone, adding that only the CNRP would be impacted.

“The agreement does not say stop arresting CNRP activists who violated the law,” Mr. Eysan said. “The CPP separates what is political and what is legal. [The CNRP] always drags everything under ‘political motives.’”

“There will be no impact on the economy and society or the nation, it will only impact their party,” Mr. Eysan said. “Let us go together tomorrow and eat noodles together, and see if all the noodle shops are closed.”

“I acknowledge there will be tensions, but if Central Market and O’Russei Market are still open, society will go on functioning,” he said. “It will only shock the CNRP.”

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