A Khmer Rouge-era jailer who was the first to be convicted in an ongoing Cambodian war crimes tribunal is ill in hospital, a prison official told AFP Wednesday.
Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, is serving out a life sentence for his role in managing a Phnom Penh detention centre where thousands were incarcerated, tortured and sent to their deaths in nearby “Killing Fields”.
The “factory of death”, as the S-21 prison was known, was at the heart of the security apparatus of the Khmer Rouge, an ultra-Maoist regime that ruled from 1975-1979 and killed almost a quarter of the population through enslavement, overwork and execution.
Duch was sent to a prison in Cambodia’s Kandal province after an appeal extended his original decades-long sentence to life in 2012.
Chat Sineang, director of the Kandal prison, told AFP that Duch had been undergoing treatment for respiratory problems since October 20 and was moved from a provincial treatment facility to the capital Phnom Penh.
“He is still at the Russian Friendship hospital,” Sineang said, describing his condition as “quite serious because he is 76 now”.
He later said that Duch’s health had deteriorated by Wednesday afternoon, and is currently in the intensive care unit.
The former mathematics teacher turned torturer was arrested in 1999 after being discovered working for a Christian aid agency under a false name.
His eventual trial was followed closely and the conviction was seen as a historic milestone for victims seeking long-delayed justice.
Numerous books and films have probed Duch’s life and his time at S-21, which has been converted into a museum.
During the proceedings, Duch asked for forgiveness but also said he was not a senior member of the Khmer Rouge and should be acquitted.
The UN-backed trial in Phnom Penh has been tainted by its limited scope since it started more than a decade ago, recording only three convictions including Duch’s.
Age has also played a factor in thwarting prosecutions.
Ieng Thirith, the Khmer Rouge social affairs minister and one of the suspects on trial in the case after Duch’s, was released on mental health grounds before dying in 2015.
Her husband and co-defendant Ieng Sary died two years earlier.