Cambodian Opposition Figures Charged
Five opposition MPs-elect and an activist have been charged with sparking violent clashes between opposition-led protesters and city security guards outside the capital’s Freedom Park.
Both sides accused the other of setting off pitched-battles on Tuesday, after nearly a year of political deadlock between the ruling-Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and the opposition’s Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Wednesday charged six defendants, including CNRP MPs-elect Mu Sochua, Ho Vann, Keo Phirum, Men Sothavrin and Real Camerin.
CNRP spokesman, Yim Sovann, said they were charged with insurrection and instigating violence. “We condemn the arrests because they are groundless,” he told Al Jazeera.
“The MPs-elect have done nothing wrong. The authorities controlled by the CPP instigated the violence,” Yim Sovann added.
On Tuesday, clashes erupted soon after CNRP-led protesters stretched a large red banner with the words, “Free the Freedom Park” across a police barricade on the east end of the park, which was shut down and sealed off with razor wire in January after violent protests.
In a statement on Wednesday, the government said the CNRP-led protesters started the violence as part of a “premeditated plot” and caused injury to 38 “local security personnel”.
“A handful of the CNRP’s leaders … led its ultra-supporters, who were armed with batons and other deadly tools, brutally attacked the local security personnel in an attempt to create chaotic situation,” the Council of Minister’s Press and Quick Reaction Unit said in the statement.
Multiple anti-government protests have been held in Phnom Penh since elections in July last year. The CNRP claims that the elections were illegal and has refused to take its seats in parliament until new elections are held.
Government spokesman, Phay Siphan, on Wednesday defended the court decision, saying that videos he has reviewed of Tuesday’s violence clearly show protesters carrying weapons.
“They systematically try to provoke violence,” he said.
Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said that he was saddened by the charges, but not surprised.