Lawyers for former Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary on Tuesday announced that they had renewed defense calls for the Khmer Rouge tribunal to investigate comments made by government officials, which they say could amount to contempt of court.
In a statement posted to their independent website, lawyers Ang Udom and Michael Karnavas said the court’s co-investigating judges had failed to explain why they rejected a defense request to determine whether hostile remarks from government officials had encouraged high-level witnesses not to cooperate with the tribunal.
Government officials in October reacted harshly after the tribunal’s Co-Investigating Judge Marcel Lemonde summoned six senior CPP members in government and the National Assembly to give evidence in the court’s investigation of five suspects, which concluded in January.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said in October that the government was firmly opposed the testimony of the six.
“Except for individuals who volunteer to go, the government’s position is no,” Mr Kanharith was quoted as saying by the AFP news agency, adding that if the tribunal’s foreign staff were dissatisfied, they could “pack their clothes and go home.”
In a speech in December, Prime Minister Hun Sen also warned the court to “be careful” in summoning witnesses, something he said could be “a life-or-death issue.”
Marcel Lemonde and You Bunleng, the court’s co-investigating judges, found in January that none of their own decisions had been improperly influenced by these events and that therefore no investigation of possible contempt of court was required.
Pre-Trial Chamber judges disagreed earlier this month, ruling that interference in the administration of justice can occur through threats or intimidation and without directly influencing the work of the investigating judges.
In their statement on Tuesday, Mr Udom and Mr Karnavas, Ieng Sary’s defense lawyers, said they had urged the Pre-Trial Chamber to consider the necessity of an investigation for contempt of court over the remarks by government officials.
“These comments may have impacted on the ability or willingness of the witnesses […] to participate in interviews,” the lawyers said in their statement. “This denies Mr Ieng Sary necessary facilities to prepare his defense.”
Officials at Mr Hun Sen’s Cabinet and government spokesmen were unavailable yesterday. However in a speech in December, the premier denied his words were improper. “I did not interfere in the court,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)