PHNOM PENH (AFP) – A former Khmer Rouge leader was hospitalised Thursday during his trial for mass murder, forced marriage and rape in the 1970s, forcing Cambodia’s war crimes court to suspend the proceedings.
Judge Nil Nonn, president of the UN-backed chamber, adjourned the hearing after the regime’s ex-head of state Khieu Samphan, 83, complained of feeling dizzy and was sent to hospital for treatment.
He had begun the day in court alongside his defence team, but after brief testimony from a witness whose 12 family members were arrested – and whose father was killed – by the Khmer Rouge, Khieu Samphan complained of feeling sick.
“Khieu Samphan feels very dizzy and his blood pressure is very high,” the judge said, adjourning proceedings.
Co-accused, Nuon Chea, 88 – known as “Brother Number Two” – was already following proceedings from his holding cell because of ill-health. Health fears have long hung over the tribunal, with the octogenarian defendants suffering from varying ailments.
Both men were given life sentences in August for crimes against humanity – the first top Khmer Rouge figures to be jailed from a regime responsible for the deaths of up to two million Cambodians from 1975-1979.
Their genocide trial – which kicked off in July – has been repeatedly delayed since mid-October after the defendants’ lawyers refused to attend, demanding the disqualification of the trial judges and more time to file full appeal documents.
All lawyers for the defendants attended the Thursday hearing.
Both men face genocide charges for the killings of ethnic Cham Muslims and Vietnamese, as well as fresh counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes. They deny all charges.
More details on Khieu Samphan’s condition were not immediately available.
But the judge said the hearing would resume on Friday, ordering Khieu Samphan to attend the proceedings if he is discharged from hospital.
The complex case against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan was deliberately split into a series of smaller trials in 2011 in a bid to obtain a fast verdict against the two men, both of whom are elderly and frail.
Earlier in the day, Khieu Samphan accused the court of trying to pressure his defence team against boycotting the trial by placing court-appointed counsel on standby.
“I have a right to a fair trial from a court which is impartial with my defence counsel of my own choice,” Khieu Samphan told the judges.
“Because there is pressure on my defence team… I do not any have hope in the chamber,” he said, adding he would exercise his “right to remain silent” throughout proceedings.