PHNOM PENH —
A human rights worker and an activist accused of violence against security forces appeared in court on Wednesday despite international pressure for the cases to be dropped.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring manager at local rights group Licadho, and Boeung Kak Lake activist Chan Puthisak, were handed the charges for allegedly attacking district security guards at a demonstration in October last year.
Sam Ath was badly beaten during the World Habitat day protest. Both men have denied the charges and say they were the subject of an unprovoked attack by the same security force that is the plaintiff in the case against them.
“I said that I didn’t commit anything as accused by these people [security guards] and I also didn’t know their faces. I clarified that I didn’t want to take revenge or commit any violence,” Sam Ath said after Wednesday’s hearing.
Puthisak said the court had so far produced no evidence of their guilt.
“I requested the court to not charge me because I am a victim and I requested the court to provide justice to me,” he said.
A joint statement issued by international rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said the case was politically motivated and intended to intimidate rights workers in the country.
“The investigation of Sam Ath and Puthisak by the Cambodian authorities is a typically absurd and undisguised case of judicial harassment,” said Champa Patel, Southeast Asia and Pacific director at Amnesty International.
“As usual, unnecessary and excessive use of force by the para-police goes unpunished, and those who work to promote and protect human rights find themselves subject to criminal proceedings.”
But Ly Sophanna, Municipal Court spokesman, said: “The prosecutor has decided to continue working on the case by reviewing all related documents, evidence, and listening to relevant individuals.”
A video of the incident posted on Facebook appears to show Sam Ath at the receiving end of a barrage of blows from the security forces. Licadho said in a statement that Puthisak was attacked by the guards and they turned on Sam Ath when he tried to intervene to “deescalate” the situation.