Benson Samay, the recently disbarred lawyer who claims to represent Ta Mok, made an appeal to the government and the UN on Monday to release the aging former Khmer Rouge commander.
“I would like to request the UN to allow my client out of custody for humanitarian and human rights reasons,” Benson Samay said at a news conference, adding that Ta Mok will turn 77 years old on Jan 5, and suffers from very poor health.
Ta Mok was arrested in 1999 and charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for his alleged role as a military commander who ordered the killing of Cambodians during the 1975 to 1979 Khmer Rouge regime, which claimed more than 1 million lives.
According to Benson Samay, Ta Mok maintains that he is innocent because he had no direct control over any other Khmer Rouge military commanders. Also, Ta Mok was “not aware of any punishable law” during the war and therefore cannot be tried when no such law existed, Benson Samay said.
Due to Ta Mok’s lengthy pre-trial detention, as well as the continued delays in creating a court that could preside over his case, Ta Mok should be released on bail, Benson Samay said.
“He should be treated like other people—[detaining Ta Mok] so long is illegal and a break in the rule of law,” he said. Under Cambodian law, the authorities can hold someone accused of a crime for six months without a trial, but the National Assembly has twice now voted to extend that period for Ta Mok.
Benson Samay also defended himself against questions about his recent disbarment, saying that the Cambodian Bar Association has never officially informed him that he is no longer allowed to practice law in Cambodia.
In August, the members of the Cambodian Bar Association held an “extraordinary session” and voted—almost unanimously—to oust Benson Samay from the Bar. The disbarment is being appealed by the attorney.
“Even if I am disbarred, I will continue to defend Ta Mok until the Court of Appeals decides [on the disbarment],” he said.
On Monday, a high-ranking Bar official confirmed that the Bar Council decided to officially dismiss Benson Samay and sent notices to Municipal, Appeals, Supreme and provincial courts last week announcing that he is no longer allowed to practice law.
Benson Samay was stripped of his ability to practice law in Cambodia because he was appointed to serve as the country’s only public notary, and a conflict of interest would arise if he was both the notary and practiced law, the official said.