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Lawyers appeal for release of ex- Khmer Rouge leader Duch

Reuters/ECCC/Handout

Lawyers for former Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch have called for his release arguing that he was only acting under orders when he oversaw the deaths of some 15,000 people at the Tuol Sleng prison in the late 1970s. 

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Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, was sentenced to 30 years in jail in July by Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was the first Khmer Rouge official to face an international tribunal and both the defence and prosecution are appealing against the sentence in a three-day hearing at the court.

His lawyer claims that Duch had only the very lowest rank in the communist party and was simply following orders from his superiors. The 'superior orders' defence was most notably used during the Nuremberg trials after World War Two when it was ruled that it did not absolve Nazi war criminals of responsibility for their actions.

His defence team say that the tribunal had no right to try Duch because he was not of the regime's senior leaders and have called for him to be aquitted.

At his trial, the 68-year-old Duch was initially given 35 years in jail, but the sentence was reduced for the years spent in illegal detention. Given time already served, he could walk free in less than 19 years.

The prosecutors, whose own appeal will be heard on Tuesday, want Duch's sentence increased to life to be communted to 45 years for time served in unlawful detention. A ruling on the appeals in expected in late June.

Four more of the Khmer Rouge regime's former members are due to go on trial later this year and Duch is expected to appear as a witness in the case.

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