Khmer Rouge tribunal judges have ordered Ieng Sary and his wife, Ieng Thirith, to be placed in pre-trial detention for up to one year, over the couple’s protestations of innocence.
Co-Investigating Judges You Bunleng and Marcel Lemonde said in a Thursday statement that they feared the couple could pressure witnesses, flee, or be harmed by angry victims if they were not incarcerated at the tribunal’s detention center.
Ieng Sary’s lawyer, Ang Udom, said his client would appeal his detention. “Do you think an old, sick man like him can stay alone in a prison like this?” he asked.
“If a very important witness like him dies before the trial, everyone will lose, including the court,” he said, adding that house arrest would be a better option.
Both Ieng Sary, 82, and his wife, 75, were examined by doctors from Calmette Hospital this week, and judges said Thursday that they had no medical evidence to suggest the couple could not be safely detained.
Ieng Thirith’s attorney, Phat Pouv Seang, said he was too busy to speak with a reporter Thursday.
Both face a maximum sentence of life in prison if found guilty.
Judges said that as minister of foreign affairs and as a member of the highest decision making bodies of the Khmer Rouge, Ieng Sary used his power to aid and abet the murder, imprisonment and political persecution of Cambodians between 1975 and 1979.
In addition to crimes against humanity, they charged him with grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions for willfully killing and causing great suffering to Cambodians, depriving people of their right to a fair trial, and deporting or confining civilians.
In his Wednesday interview with judges, Ieng Sary denied those charges.
“There are certain accusations that I cannot accept,” Ieng Sary told judges.
“I would like to know the truth about a dark period in our history. I do not know where the truth lies. I am very happy that this Court has been established because it will be an opportunity for me to discover the truth and also to share what I know,” he added.
Ieng Sary insisted that he has no intention to flee and emphasized his leading role in breaking the back of the Khmer Rouge’s 17-year insurgency in 1996.
“He stressed that it was thanks to him that the Khmer Rouge forces reintegrated [into] the Government and argued that he had contributed to the re-establishment of peace,” judges wrote Thursday in their order of provisional detention.
In August 1979, an ad-hoc Cambodian court, the People’s Revolutionary Tribunal, convicted Ieng Sary of genocide, condemning him to death and ordering that all his assets be confiscated. In 1996, then-King Norodom Sihanouk granted Ieng Sary a royal pardon following his defection and a request from then second prime minister Hun Sen and first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh..
Tribunal co-investigating judges said Thursday that neither his prior conviction nor his 1996 pardon would prevent prosecution at the ECCC.
“[N]either the pardon nor the amnesty currently establish any obstacles to prosecution before the ECCC for the international crimes with which Ieng Sary stands charged,” judges wrote.
Ang Udom said that decision was an affront to the monarchy. “How about the Royal pardon?” he said. “If you do not recognize that, what would it mean to the King?”
Judges charged Ieng Thirith with crimes against humanity for allegedly using her power as minister of social action to further the murder, extermination, imprisonment, and persecution of Cambodians between 1975 and 1979.
Ieng Thirith denies wrongdoing.
“The claims of the co-prosecutors are 100% false,” she told judges Wednesday. She also said she had never had any relations with Nuon Chea, the most senior surviving Khmer Rouge leader, who was imprisoned by the ECCC in September. He has also denied wrongdoing.
Ieng Thirith told judges that she “detests” Nuon Chea, and “knows that he is a bad person.”
She maintained that as minister of social action she helped Cambodians by overseeing the repair of damaged hospitals and the production of medicine, according to the Thursday order. She also told judges that she suffers from chronic mental and physical illness and requested that she be freed, under police guard if necessary.
Judges said they were particularly concerned that the couple might flee, given that they have a residence abroad, passports, and money. They also said that the risk of witness intimidation was particularly acute because of the family’s social prominence, and the fact that the couple will be able to access their case files, which can identify witnesses by name.
Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith, judges wrote, have “numerous family members and former subordinates in the regions of Phnom Malai, Pailin and Phnom Penh, some of whom currently hold influential positions and even have armed guards.”
As judicial investigations continue, additional charges may be brought against the couple.
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean.)