PHNOM PENH, Apr 1 – Defence lawyers Wednesday demanded that Cambodia’s war crimes court release the prison chief of the Khmer Rouge regime, a day after he issued a dramatic apology for his brutal past.
Duch on Tuesday accepted responsibility for supervising the extermination of around 15,000 people between 1975 and 1979 at the notorious Tuol Sleng prison under the hard-line communist movement.
Defence lawyer Francois Roux told the UN-backed court that the trial should continue but that Duch ought to be freed immediately, saying his client had been held for an illegal length of time following his 1999 arrest.
"We come before you to request that you put an end to the detention of Duch because it’s well beyond the acceptable time limits of Cambodian law and it’s also well beyond the time limit for international instruments," Roux said.
"I’m sorry to bring this before you. It’s now your problem and you cannot avoid it," he added.
Roux went on to ask judges to consider subtracting Duch’s time in prison from his final sentence and to also soften its eventual verdict to compensate for the alleged violation of his rights.
But prosecutor Chea Leang said previous rulings that denied Duch’s release were still valid. It was not up to the hybrid Cambodian-international court to release him, she said, since it has only held him since 2007.
The court’s pre-trial chamber had also refused to release Duch — whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav — because of the possibility of revenge attacks.
Duch apologised and begged for forgiveness Tuesday, saying he felt "regret and heartfelt sorrow" for his role in the regime that killed up to two million people.
Observers believed his public expression of remorse, in which he pledged to cooperate with the court, might help bring him a reduced prison sentence. He faces a life term.
The Khmer Rouge rose to power as a tragic spin-off of the conflict in neighbouring Vietnam, launching a disastrous experiment under its leader Pol Pot to transform the country into an agrarian utopia.
Prosecutors on Tuesday recounted the brutal torture techniques taught by Duch and described him as a central figure in the regime’s "widespread attack on the population of Cambodia."