A United Nations-backed tribunal formed to hear charges against Cambodia's former Khmer Rouge leaders has denied bail to the first defendant it has seen. As VOA's Kate Woodsome reports from Phnom Penh, the former Khmer Rouge prison chief is one of five defendants to be tried on charges of committing crimes against humanity.
Kaing Guek Eav, more commonly known as Duch, sat expressionless as the tribunal's Pre-Trial Chamber announced its decision Monday to deny him bail ahead of his trial next year.
Cambodian Judge Prak Kimson read a long list of reasons to keep Duch behind bars, including concerns for public order and for the defendant's safety during a time of heightened anxiety as the tribunal reviews Khmer Rouge atrocities.
The judge also said Duch has proven he would be a flight risk if released on bail.
"From 1979 to 1999, when he was arrested by the military court, the charged person disappeared from public view. He used unclear addresses and names, and many factors indicate he could take measures again to conceal his past to avoid being recognized as Duch, the former chairman of S-21," said Judge Prak Kimson.
During the Khmer Rouge rule from 1975 to 1979, Duch headed the infamous S-21 prison in Phnom Penh. At least 14,000 people were tortured there. Only around a dozen are known to have survived.
The tribunal arrested and charged Duch last July. Before that, the 65-year-old sat in a military prison since 1999. His lawyers argued that his eight-year-long confinement was a violation of his human rights, far longer than the pre-trial detention period allowed under Cambodian law.
The investigating judges ruled that the military court's decision to detain Duch is a separate issue from his detention under the tribunal.
Duch is accused of overseeing mass murder, arbitrary detention and torture. The prisoners under his supervision were among nearly two million people killed at the hands of the Khmer Rouge from torture and execution, disease, starvation and exhaustion.
Leader Pol Pot and his black-clad cadres had embarked on a fanatical drive to create a classless, agrarian state. The communist extremists forced almost the entire population into the countryside to toil in the rice fields. They wiped out the monetary system and all remnants of modern Cambodian society.
The decision from the Pre-Trial Chamber Monday stirred relief from victims of the Khmer Rouge, and their families, who gathered in an observation hall at the tribunal headquarters on the outskirts of the capital, Phnom Penh.
Chum Mey, one of the few survivors of S-21, was among them.
The 77-year-old said he was happy with the verdict. He said he had been waiting a long time for his former captor to be detained.
After the fall of the Khmer Rouge, Duch became a born-again Christian and development worker. He was discovered by journalists in 1999, and admitted to them that he oversaw the atrocities at the prison. But he insisted he had acted under direct orders from the Khmer Rouge leadership.
The tribunal has arrested and charged four other former Khmer Rouge leaders. The movement's former president, Khieu Samphan, was arrested last month. Also in detention are the former chief ideologue, Nuon Chea, foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, central committee member Ieng Thirith. They face charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The defendants are in their 70's and 80's, and all complain of poor health. They had been living freely before their arrests, and the public is concerned they could die, like Pol Pot did, before they are held accountable for one of the worst mass murders in history.