Lawyers for Khmer Rouge jailer appeal conviction

Defense lawyers for a former Khmer Rouge prison chief have formally appealed his conviction for war crimes and other offenses that landed him a 19-year jail sentence.

Kang Ritheary, a Cambodian lawyer representing Kaing Guek Eav — also known as Duch — said Monday his team has filed the appeal with the Supreme Court chamber of the country's U.N.-backed genocide tribunal. They seek his release from detention.

The tribunal is seeking justice for the estimated 1.7 million people who died from starvation, disease, overwork and execution due to the radical policies of the 1975-79 communist Khmer Rouge regime.

Kang Ritheary said the appeal, lodged Friday, argues that Duch was wrongfully convicted because the court had a mandate to try only top Khmer Rouge leaders. Duch (pronounced DOIK) claimed there were others who held positions similar to his.

"The tribunal is confused in convicting my client," Kang Ritheary said. "Based on the agreement between the United Nations and Cambodian government, Duch is not a main suspect for trial by the tribunal."

While Duch was one of some 100 officials supervising separate prisons around the country, the S-21 prison that Duch supervised — also known as Tuol Sleng — was the ultimate destination for most important political prisoners, many of whom were tortured into making false confessions.

Prosecutors had already appealed Duch's sentence, arguing that it was too lenient. Found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as torture and murder, Duch was originally sentenced to 35 years. Judges reduced the sentence by five years for time served illegally detained in a Cambodian military prison, and ended up commuting it to about 19 years after taking into consideration that he cooperated, showed some expression of remorse and was not in the Khmer Rouge's inner circle.

The prosecutors said the original judgment "gives insufficient weight to the gravity of Duch's crimes and his role and his willing participation in those crimes." They want a life sentence — equivalent in legal terms to 50 years — commuted to 45 years to take into account his earlier illegal detention.

The appeals are expected to be heard next year.

The 67-year-old Duch was the first defendant to be tried of the five held by the tribunal. He admitted to overseeing the torture and deaths of as many as 16,000 people at the prison he ran. He has expressed remorse for his actions.

The four other defendants are expected to go on trial by the middle of next year: Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologist; Khieu Samphan, its former head of state; Ieng Sary, its foreign minister; and his wife Ieng Thirith, who was minister for social affairs.