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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Defence team roils court with letter to editor

Defence team roils court with letter to editor

The close of Cambodia scholar Stephen Heder’s court testimony was overshadowed yesterday as the prosecution took the defence to task for offering a damning public critique of the tribunal, which was published in this newspaper.

The letter, published yesterday and signed by Khieu Samphan defence counsels Anta Guisse, Kong Sam Onn and Arthur Vercken, calls the court a “‘race against death’ conducted in the guise of a criminal trial”.

Among a number of criticisms, the defence slams the chamber’s decision to sever the charges into a series of mini-trials but to still judge in the first mini-trial whether Samphan is responsible for the criminal policies contained in the whole indictment.

The counsels also wrote that they have been denied the opportunity to contest the “mountain of evidence” admitted by the prosecution and that “the chamber has never been interested in what the defence has had to say”.

Moments after Heder exited the courtroom, prosecutor Tarik Abdulhak, reading from a copy of yesterday’s Post, submitted oral testimony regarding the letter, calling it “scandalous” and a “misrepresentation of the record of [the] proceedings”.

“It is one thing to disagree with a decision … [but] to make false allegations about effectively being gagged, ignored or prevented from making a submission is unreasonable … unethical … [and] unprofessional,” he said.

On the issue of the defence being unable to contest evidence submitted, Abdulhak questioned whether they were “operating in a parallel reality”.

He also called the counsels’ criticism of the severance decision — in light of their initial support for the move and subsequent failure to raise objections — “an almost unbelievable exercise in hypocrisy”.

The prosecution then called on the chamber to issue a formal reprimand to the Khieu Samphan defence for what they labelled a “cynical, calculative account to mislead the public to bring the proceedings before the court into disrepute”.

Civil party co-lawyers also called the letter “an insult to the civil parties — and to the Cambodian people”.

Defence counsel Anta Guisse rejected the prosecution’s harsh words, saying that “absolutely nothing” written in the letter had not already been argued before the public chamber.

“Maybe our position does not suit the court prosecutor, the chamber or the civil parties — but our [role] is to defend our client — that’s the nature of a trial,” she said, adding that lawyers, too, are entitled to freedom of expression.

Despite the court’s intention to hear further mini-trials, observers have raised doubts as to the tribunal’s ability to get further than Case 002, meaning Heder could well have been the last witness to ever take the stand.

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