Old leader: Ieng Thirith, foreground, the Khmer Rouge's former minister of social affairs, smiles during a hearing in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in this photo taken on Oct. 19, 2011 released by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. Ieng Thirith was scheduled to set free after a court in Cambodia ruled that she was medically unfit to stand trial for genocide, a decision survivors called shocking and unjust. (AP/Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Mark Peters)
Prosecutors urged Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal on Friday to confiscate the passport of a former regime leader it is about to free because it has deemed her medically unfit to stand trial.
The release of 80-year-old Ieng Thirith had been expected Friday, but it will be delayed at least a few days while the court considers prosecutors' request.
On Thursday, the United Nations-backed tribunal said it will free Ieng Thirith because she suffers from a degenerative illness, probably Alzheimer's disease. The court said the illness left "no prospect" for her to face trial.
Ieng Thirith is one of the most senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge, the genocidal regime that killed an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians during its 1975-79 reign.
The Sorbonne-educated Shakespeare scholar served as the Khmer Rouge's social affairs minister and was a sister-in-law of the regime's late leader Pol Pot. She is accused of involvement in the "planning, direction, coordination and ordering of widespread purges," and was charged with crimes against humanity, genocide, homicide and torture.
Prosecutors said Friday they are not contesting the tribunal's decision to free her but say her freedom should be more restricted. They are asking the court to confiscate her passport to prevent her from traveling abroad, and to stipulate that the court grant itself access to see her at all times.
"Ieng Thirith will stay in detention while the (tribunal's) supreme court considers the appeal," said tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra. If the appeal is accepted, a hearing will be held within 15 days.
Ieng Thirith was one of four aging and frail defendants in Case 002, the court's most high-profile case so far.
The others currently on trial include her husband, 86-year-old Ieng Sary, the regime's former foreign minister. Also on trial are 85-year-old Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologist and No. 2 leader behind Pol Pot, and 80-year-old Khieu Samphan, a former head of state.
The prospect of Ieng Thirith's release drew outrage Thursday from Khmer Rouge survivors. They say they have waited more than 30 years for justice and find it hard to feel compassion for her suffering.