A defense lawyer for Khieu Samphan said Wednesday that the presence of “standby” lawyers at the Khmer Rouge tribunal last week may have contributed to her client’s sudden illness.
Judges at the tribunal last month ordered new counsel to be appointed as standby representatives to the former Khmer Rouge head of state due to his usual lawyers’ boycott of proceedings for several months last year. The reserve team has not yet been called into action.
At a hearing on January 8, Khieu Samphan’s defense team lambasted the Trial Chamber’s decision to appoint the standby lawyers, claiming that the court was “putting pressure on” their client. A few hours later, during the court’s lunch break, the 83-year-old was rushed to the hospital with dizziness and high blood pressure.
Anta Guisse, a lawyer for Khieu Samphan, said in an email Wednesday that the presence of the additional counsel in court made her client feel anxious, which could have led to his decline in health and subsequent hospitalization.
“The only thing I can say is that he was really affected by the presence of lawyers designated as “stand by” by the Chambers and was concerned—as he has stated in court—that there was pressure against him and his defence which he has described to us as a source of anxiety before and after the hearing,” Ms. Guisse wrote.
“It obviously did not help,” she continued, adding that her client’s condition had seen “slight improvements” over the past week as he has received treatment at Phnom Penh’s Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital.
However, one of the standby lawyers, Touch Vorleak, dismissed this suggestion Wednesday.
“I don’t think so,” she said. “In the past, his health was not so good. He is old. Health is always changing.”
Ms. Vorleak added that she and her co-lawyer, Calvin Saunders, had not disturbed the court’s proceedings in any way.
“We just stand by,” she said.
Cambodia Justice Initiative program officer Long Panhavuth also said he doubted that Khieu Samphan’s health problems were caused by the new lawyers.
“It’s not a valid argument,” he said.
But he said the Trial Chamber had not done a good job of defining the role of the new lawyers, and that it was not clear whether they were supposed to be observers or participants in the proceedings.
Hearings in the case have been postponed until January 21 as a result of Khieu Samphan’s poor health. He is scheduled to be released from the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital today.
(Additional reporting by Van Roeun)