Three Khmer Rouge leaders staged bids for release today at Cambodia’s war crimes tribunal, the first time defendants in the court’s historic second case have appeared alongside one another in a public hearing.
Lawyers for former Khmer Rouge Brother No 2 Nuon Chea, head of state Khieu Samphan and social action minister Ieng Thirith argued that the court had not met the legal requirements to continue holding their clients in detention ahead of their trial, which is expected to begin within six months.
“We should not allow the bending or breaking of internal rules just because they are inconvenient,” said Jasper Pauw, a lawyer for Nuon Chea.
The Nuon Chea defence argued that the court’s Pre-Trial Chamber had not rendered a reasoned decision on its appeal of last year’s indictment within the window during which it could still compel the detention of the Khmer Rouge ideologue.
Lawyers for Khieu Samphan and Ieng Thirith said their clients had not been brought to trial within four months of the indictments as, they claimed, court rules require.
Prosecutors said, however, that the defendants’ continued detention was lawful and that there had been no recent change in circumstances that could compel their release.
Public order, the prosecutors added, could be threatened if the suspects were freed.
As in their previous appearances before the court, concerns about the health of the ageing detainees were brought to the fore today.
Ieng Thirith was helped out of the hearing shortly after it began, waiving her right to participate.
Nuon Chea, who donned sunglasses to protect his eyes from the lights of the courtroom, complained of dizziness during the morning session and left early as well.
Only Khieu Samphan stayed throughout, addressing the judges briefly following remarks from his lawyer.
“I only have one suggestion: Please abide by the law,” said Khieu Samphan, who served on the Central Committee of a regime that abolished property, evacuated cities and is thought responsible for the deaths of more than two million Cambodians. “That’s all, thank you your honours.”
Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary was the only Case 002 defendant not present today.
His lawyers requested earlier this month that the upcoming trial be conducted in half-day sessions in order to accommodate the 85-year-old’s lack of energy and frail health.
Pen Moeun, 72, of Kampong Speu province, said outside the hearing today that he would be incensed to see the defendants released.
“They are unforgivable. I lost so many relatives during the Khmer Rouge period,” he said.
“The court should not free these people because the crimes they committed caused so many people to be cruelly killed.”
Trial Chamber president Nil Nonn said the court would issue decisions on the release requests within the next few weeks.