Pol Pot’s former Minister of Social Action Ieng Thirith, 80, was released from the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s detention facility yesterday afternoon into the custody of her family, and driven to her family’s lavish villa in Phnom Penh.
The court’s Trial Chamber on Thursday ordered Ieng Thirith’s unconditional release because she is suffering from serious and irreversible dementia, but prosecutors appealed the decision the next day, asking for a number of conditions to be placed on her freedom.
Although the appeal is still pending, the tribunal’s Supreme Court Chamber said in a decision released yesterday that Ieng Thirith would be let go under three provisional conditions: that she surrender her passport and national identity card, responds to any court summons, and seeks permission for any change of address.
“Detention of the accused is not necessary pending determination of the appeal…and would not be a proportionate measure in these circumstances,” the Supreme Court Chamber wrote.
Ieng Thirith left the court’s detention compound, where she has been detained since 2007, at around 1:40 p.m. yesterday, tribunal spokeswoman Yuko Maeda said.
“She was released with her family, and the Phnom Penh Municipal Court has appointed a guardian for Ieng Thirith,” said Ms. Maeda. She declined to comment further on the matter, and municipal court officials could not be reached.
Outside the Ieng family’s villa in Chamkar Mon district yesterday, crowds had gathered to watch her arrival back home after five years jailed at the ECCC’s detention facility. Four luxury SUVs could be seen parked just inside the villa’s gate, while a guard was posted on the roof of the house.
“Mrs. Ieng Sary has arrived,” said one resident of the neighborhood who had been observing the goings-on.
Ieng Thirith’s children could not be reached yesterday, but said last week that they planned to take their mother to live out her days in Pailin, where one son is a deputy provincial governor and another daughter is a doctor.
Ieng Thirith’s husband, former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary, is currently hospitalized in Phnom Penh, but he has been keeping abreast of his wife’s situation, according to his lawyer.
“He was aware of the decision and the [prosecutors’] appeal and stay through his children. No doubt he is being kept informed and the family is making all efforts to offer whatever care [is] needed,” his defense lawyer, Michael Karnavas, said.
Ieng Thirith’s sister, Khieu Ponnary, was married to Pol Pot before lapsing into mental illness in the mid-1970s. She was cared for by her family for 30 years before her death in 2003.
Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, pointed out that as the minister of social action, Ieng Thirith was responsible for many of the privations experienced by Cambodians during the Khmer Rouge regime, especially the lack of even rudimentary health care.
“Thus, for victims, Ieng Thirith’s access to world class health care and multiple medical experts stands in stark contrast to the improvised and often deadly brand of ‘health care’ she helped the Khmer Rouge impose,” Mr. Chhang wrote yesterday.
“The treatment Ieng Thirith has received can be a symbol of defiant compassion as a powerful counterpart to the complete lack of compassion demonstrated by the Khmer Rouge,” he added.