The Khmer Rouge tribunal on Friday overturned a decision preventing contact among its five detainees, saying that judicial investigators had failed to show any reason why they should be kept apart while in detention.
Finding in favor of a motion submitted by lawyers for former Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, the Pre-Trial Chamber ruling reaffirmed an April decision in which it granted visitation rights to former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife, former Minister of Social Action Ieng Thirith.
Defense lawyers have complained that since their arrests last year, their clients have effectively been held in solitary confinement. Friday’s ruling voided a May order by Co-Investigating Judges Marcel Lemonde and You Bunleng, who said that, while some contact at the court’s detention facility was allowed among the Ieng family, other detainees could not be allowed to communicate because they might collude to thwart investigators.
In a unanimous decision, the Pre-Trial Chamber’s five judges said that, without evidence, the mere risk of collusion does not justify keeping any of the detainees in solitary confinement.
“In making their order, the Co-Investigating Judges did not identify any evidence […] capable of showing a concrete risk that the charged persons would collude to exert pressure on witnesses or victims while in detention,” the decision stated.
“[T]he Pre-Trial Chamber considers that limitation of contacts can only be ordered to prevent pressure on witnesses or victims when there is evidence reasonably capable of showing that there is a concrete risk,” it said.
Furthermore, the Pre-Trial Chamber found that, apart from protecting the interests of their investigation, the co-investigating judges have no authority to set the conditions of detention.
Investigators have been able to gather evidence for a year during which the segregated detainees could not have interfered, the judges found.
The appeal upheld Friday was not opposed by prosecutors, who also did not oppose an original motion by lawyers for Ieng Sary. Lawyers for Nuon Chea have announced their intention to appeal against an order made this month to renew his pretrial detention for a second year.