PHNOM PENH (AFP) — The former Khmer Rouge "First Lady" facing trial for crimes against humanity on Wednesday lost her appeal for release from Cambodia's UN-backed genocide court in a verdict her lawyer called unfair.
Ieng Thirith, the regime's former social affairs minister, is one of five top cadres in the sights of the UN war crimes tribunal over atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 rule.
She wore a green scarf over her blouse and took notes while chief judge Prak Kimsan read the court's decision on her appeal.
The judge told the court that 76-year-old Ieng Thirith needed to stay in jail as "there are well-founded reasons to believe" that she committed the crimes for which she has been charged.
"The provisional detention order is still effective," the judge said. "The court rejects the appeal."
After the ruling, Ieng Thirith's lawyer Phat Pouv Seang told reporters the verdict was "unfair" because it didn't take into account his arguments that she should be released because of her declining health.
"The court's decision today doesn't give justice to my client. It means there is bias in this case," Phat Pouv Seang said.
"My client is elderly and she has been sick a long time and she can't escape anywhere," he added.
Court officials said doctors have deemed Ieng Thirith fit to stand trial, but her lawyer insisted she is ill.
Phat Pouv Sean told reporters that he saw one of Ieng Thirith's legs swelling during Wednesday's verdict and that she complained of insomnia and headaches. However, he declined to specify the names of her ailments.
"She frequently tells me that the medical care she receives at the detention facility is not adequate," he added.
The four other defendants at the tribunal are mostly in their 70s and 80s, and worries for their health have also cast a cloud over the proceedings as critics worry they could die before trials are completed. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998.
It has taken three decades to start bringing senior officials of the Khmer Rouge -- who left up to two million people dead from overwork, starvation, torture or execution -- to trial at the joint Cambodia-UN tribunal.
The court was not established until 2006, and the trials of the regime's five surviving senior leaders are not due to begin until later this year.
The court said it suspects Ieng Thirith is a flight risk and that her detention is necessary to protect her against possible revenge attacks from Khmer Rouge victims.
The judges also said they feared she could put pressure on witnesses.
Ieng Thirith was arrested last November along with her husband, Ieng Sary, who was the regime's foreign minister.
She has rejected the charges against her as "100 percent false" and said she spent time during the regime's reign repairing hospitals and producing medicines.
Besides Ieng Thirith and her husband, the other former leaders in jail awaiting trial are "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan, and Kaing Guek Eav or "Duch," who ran a notorious torture centre in Phnom Penh.
Duch's trial is expected to begin in September.
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