A year after Ieng Thirith stunned the Khmer Rouge tribunal by delivering a 20-minute tirade warning her accusers of damnation, the former Minister of Social Action was more subdued as she appeared before the court to seek bail for a third and final time.
The memory of last year’s episode nevertheless seemed fresh in everyone’s minds yesterday, as defense lawyers remarked pointedly and repeatedly that their 77-year-old client, who is charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, wished to exercise her right to remain silent.
Senior Assistant Prosecutor Vincent de Wilde d’Estmael also spoke at some length yesterday about last year’s rant, calling it “a statement whose violence, cynicism and paradoxical as well as provocative nature surprised us all.”
He said it was just one of her many attempts to intimidate witnesses and parties to the trial, providing clear grounds for denial of bail.
The court’s co-investigating judges extended Ieng Thirith’s provisional detention for a third year in November, citing the possibility that she would pressure witnesses, destroy evidence, threaten public order, or flee. They also said they had uncovered additional evidence linking her to Khmer Rouge policies that caused the deaths of millions.
Prosecutors were more precise yesterday, saying that investigators had collected 60 witness interviews on Ieng Thirith in the past year, including 19 recent statements that gave “crucial evidence” on her role overseeing hospitals and pharmaceutical factories.
They said that Ieng Thirith’s continued detention was justified because of the complexity and gravity of the charges against her. They also cited her now-famous volatility, revealing that Ieng Thirith had threatened guards and fellow detainees “on at least 70 occasions.”
But defense lawyers argued that the co-investigating judges ignored significant exculpatory evidence that has also come to light this year, and that they failed to produce facts that directly link Ieng Thirith to the crimes being investigated.
“The available evidence now shows that hardly any connection can be made between the charged person and the facts and crimes alleged in the introductory submission,” Cambodian defense lawyer Phat Pouv Seang said.
Ieng Thirith seemed frail and confused during the hearing, backing up her lawyers’ claims that she was in poor health and no longer posed a flight risk.
“I forget again about the number of children. I have many children but I am too busy with work to count the number,” she said when asked how many children she has.
When pressed, she managed to give the correct number: “It’s four,” she said.
Ieng Thirith also said she could not remember the name of her husband, Ieng Sary, who is also a suspect at the tribunal, although she noted that they had arrived at the ECCC together.
At the end of the hearing she rose to deliver a short, rambling statement on her family background.
“I am from the elite class of society and we studied law,” she said.
“I am from a proper elite family. I never took a single cent of money from anybody. We relied on the salary we earned from our work and this should be aware of by everybody.”