Nuon Chea’s wife, Ly Kimseng, visited her husband in prison for the first time Tuesday morning.
She sat silent, her papery hands folded over a purse in her lap, for most of the hour-long drive from central Phnom Penh to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, where her husband has been incarcerated since Sept 19.
She brought him two big bags of fruit; interviewed the cook, doctor, and security personnel at the prison; and emerged two hours later apparently reassured that Nuon Chea is in good hands at the tribunal prison, which is run by the government.
“I am excited to see him,” Ly Kimseng said shortly after the visit. “Usually as wife and husband when we are far away, I feel bad for him. But he’s happy staying here. It’s quiet. It’s good for him. Nobody disturbs him.”
She said her husband, who at 82 is the most senior Khmer Rouge leader still alive, looked cleaner than when she saw him last. “People wash his clothes, cut his fingernails. He got a haircut. But he’s thinner.”
Ly Kimseng said the prison facility was clean, but she found his room a little small and the odor of fresh paint still lingering in the new building a bit sharp.
An on-site doctor told her Nuon Chea is in good health and that his blood pressure has returned to normal, she said.
Ly Kimseng also met with the cook. “I don’t know about the food, but the cook said, ‘if you want to see how my food is, you can taste it,’” she said.
Ly Kimseng said that since his arrest, Nuon Chea had been exercising every day, taking in the sun each morning, and reading books about Buddhism. His requests for a thicker mattress and a sit-down toilet have been fulfilled, she said.
Ly Kimseng, 71, is the daughter of Kompong Speu province farmers. Her father was an early Cambodian communist, and she met Nuon Chea through party friends. The couple married in 1957, after Nuon Chea rebuffed his mother’s attempts to marry him off to a rich girl. Nuon Chea has explained his choice in the past by saying: “Rich families know only happiness. I need a woman who can struggle with me.”
Ly Kimseng said she believes her husband is innocent. “I don’t think he’s guilty. But they make accusations,” she said. “I cannot judge whether this court is fair or not fair.”
She said her husband’s lawyer, Son Arun, has reassured her that the court is doing good work. “He said the process of the court is good now,” she said. “I am not worried anymore.”
Son Arun said Tuesday that he had no current plans to appeal Nuon Chea’s detention.