The end of a boycott at the Khmer Rouge tribunal didn’t prevent the first evidentiary hearing in Case 002/02 from being uninterrupted yesterday, as testimony was cut short when octogenarian defendant Khieu Samphan was taken to hospital after complaining of dizziness.
“We heard a letter from the treating doctor at the [Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia] that Mr Khieu Samphan is very dizzy and his blood pressure is very high, and the treating doctors at the ECCC decided to send him to the Khmer Soviet Hospital,” trial chamber president Nil Nonn announced at the start of yesterday’s afternoon session.
Proceedings, he continued, would resume this morning, Samphan’s health permitting. Despite having been hospitalised before with relatively minor ailments, Samphan, 83, has perhaps been the healthiest of Case 002’s original four defendants, almost always appearing in the courtroom and typically standing to deliver statements.
By contrast, former Case 002 defendant Ieng Thirith was severed from proceedings in 2012 after being found unfit to stand trial due to advancing dementia.
Her husband and co-defendant Ieng Sary died in 2013 of heart failure.
Samphan’s current Case 002/02 co-defendant, 88-year-old Nuon Chea, has also been hospitalised multiple times, and watched significant portions of Case 002/01 proceedings from a holding cell, finding it too taxing to attend hearings in the courtroom. However, his health has improved in recent months.
Samphan defender Kong Sam Onn said yesterday evening that Samphan remained in hospital, and that he had received no word on his condition.
“He is still in the hospital, so tomorrow, maybe it will be [possible] for him to join the hearing, but maybe not,” he said, adding that at about 2pm yesterday afternoon, Samphan was suffering from “serious headaches, and he looked very painful”.
Plans for medical check-ups to assess the fitness of the two accused were in the works before yesterday’s hospitalisation.
Samphan had appeared to be in good health earlier in the day, giving a statement accusing the court of attempting to interfere with the conduct of his counsel’s duties.
The statement came after the former Khmer Rouge head of state’s attorneys criticised the court for giving seats in the defence section of the courtroom to their standby counterparts – lawyers appointed by the court to take over Samphan’s defence should his team initiate another boycott similar to the one that halted proceedings for two months last year.
“This is one of the tricks to prevent my counsel from performing their [jobs] here in full force,” Samphan said.
“Because there is pressure on my team . . . I do not have any hope in the chamber, so I would like to exercise my right to remain silent,” he added later.
Yesterday’s hearing also saw the first witness testimony of Case 002/02, with Takeo province native Meas Sokha taking the stand to describe the imprisonment of 12 members of his family at the Kraing Ta Chan security centre, a prison one witness claims to have seen Nuon Chea visit, according to the Case 002 indictment.
Sokha, who was only 15 years old when imprisoned, said the arrests came after his brother-in-law convened a meeting with his father and other villagers to “collect thumbprints to depose the [Khmer Rouge] village chief”, a meeting he said was orchestrated by the Khmer Rouge itself in order to provide a pretext for his father’s arrest.
“My father was arrested the next morning . . . three militia men came, and they told him to go and meet Angkar, and they told him to leave his knife,” Sokha said, using the term “organisation” that the Khmer Rouge often used for itself.
Five days later, Sokha and the rest of his family members were rounded up and taken for the night to a facility where he “saw shackles and bloodstains”, before being taken on to Kraing Ta Chan.
By the time he arrived, he testified, his father was already dead.
“I met [my neighbour] Yeay Sin, who told me that ‘your father has been taken away, and he left here only his cigarette lighter,’” he said. “And he told me that he was tortured very severely before he was taken away.”