Cambodia’s war crimes tribunal has released an ailing high-ranking official of the notorious Khmer Rouge regime after her reprieve was held back following demands by prosecutors that conditions be attached to restrict her freedom.
On Sunday, Ieng Thirith, 80, the sister of deceased regime leader Pol Pot’s first wife, was driven in a convoy out of the tribunal’s compound, three days after the U.N.-backed tribunal decided to let her go as she was found unfit to stand trial.
The Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) announced Sunday that it had upheld a decision to release the former Khmer Rouge social affairs minister, who experts say has Alzheimer’s disease.
Ieng Thirith was diagnosed with the degenerative disease last year and had been excused from court proceedings while she received medical treatment in prison.
The ECCC had initially announced a decision to free her on Thursday, but prosecutors delayed the release by filing an appeal demanding conditions be set to restrict her freedom.
On Sunday, the tribunal said it was granting her a provisional release while it considers an appeal of its earlier decision to grant her “unconditional” freedom, expected to be heard later this month.
“This is a provisional measure that will remain in effect until the Supreme Court Chamber decides on the merits of the appeal by the Co-Prosecutors,” the ECCC in a statement.
She is forbidden to leave the country and is required to inform the court of her address and respond to any summons, the statement said.
Crimes against humanity
Ieng Thirith is among four surviving members of the ultra-Maoist leadership on trial for crimes committed during the 1975-1979 regime, under which up to two million Cambodians died of disease, exhaustion, starvation, and execution.
The charges against her for war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide have not been withdrawn.
Survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime have criticized her release, saying they had waited decades for justice and find it hard to feel compassion for her suffering.
"It is difficult for victims and indeed, all Cambodians, to accept the especially vigorous enforcement of Ieng Thirith's rights taking place at the [tribunal]," said Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, a group that researches Khmer Rouge atrocities, the Associated Press reported.
In a statement Sunday, he noted the irony of Ieng Thirith receiving "world class health care."
As social affairs minister she was "personally and directly involved in denying Cambodians even the most basic health care during the regime's years in power," he said.
Since her arrest along with her husband in 2007, Ieng Thirith has repeatedly denied her involvement in the atrocities committed by the regime and has refused to cooperate with the tribunal.
Her husband Ieng Sary, 86, the former Khmer Rouge foreign minister, stands accused of the same atrocities, but is currently in hospital due to fatigue.
Theirs is the second case undertaken by the ECCC after successfully trying an earlier one against former prison chief Duch in February, jailing him for life on appeal for overseeing the deaths of some 15,000 people.
But despite spending nearly U.S. $150 million since it was established six years ago, the ECCC has handed down only one sentence and has been mired in allegations of corruption and interference.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.