PANO – Nearly 40 years ago, to serve the political guideline of the Khmer Rouge Regime in Cambodia, the Tuol Sleng “Hell on Earth” was established. Within four years, about 17,000 people were imprisoned here; only seven people survived. Tuol Sleng Prison became a “nightmare” of Cambodian people.
From May 1975, the Khmer Rouge regime converted five buildings of the complex of the Chao Ponhea Yat High School into a prison and interrogation centre. The Khmer Rouge put the complex, which it called “Security Prison-21” (S-21), into operation from October 1975.
The main aim of Tuol Sleng was to implement the guideline of the Khmer Rouge regime on its enemies, with the motto that all the inmates must be killed. Obeying the order from his superior, Kang Kek Iew (or Duch), who oversaw the Tuol Sleng, ordered the arrest of all women, children and relatives of those who were suspected of being against the Khmer Rouge regime, to kill them. In a statement in front of the Cambodia tribunal, Duch said that pictures were taken of all inmates sent to Tuol Sleng so that the Khmer Rouge leaders knew that they were arrested. Moreover, the pictures of their execution were also taken to let them know that they were killed.
Upon arrival at the prison, the prisoners were forced to strip to their underwear and their possessions were confiscated without any explanations. About 40 to 100 prisoners were confined in each cell. On the first floor, the prisoners were shackled to beds, while on the second floor, the cells were smaller and the prisoners were shackled to the floor. There was a big room on the first floor to confine women and children; even babies had to stay there with their mothers because their fathers were imprisoned somewhere else.
The harsh regulations of the camp were well below minimum human living conditions. The prisoners in smaller cells were shackled to the walls or the concrete floor. Those who were held in the large mass cells were collectively shackled to long iron bars. Each day, the guards checked the prisoners four times and replaced shackles immediately if they were loose. If the prisoners violated the camp regulations, they would be beaten severely. The prisoners were hosed down every four days.
However, the most brutal things at Tuol Sleng were cruel torture such as beatings, electric shocks, holding prisoner’ heads under water, pulling out finger nails while pouring alcohol on the wounds, even some prisoners were cut with knives or suffocated with plastic bags. The prisoners’ blood is still seen on the cell walls. The prisoners at S-21 were eventually taken to Choeung Ek, the “Killing Fields”, in the outskirts of Phnom Penh, to be executed and buried. Some had their throats cut, or were killed with machetes or nails in their heads.
In early 1979, supported by Vietnamese volunteer soldiers, Cambodian revolutionary forces toppled Pol Pot’s genocidal regime, liberating Phnom Penh.
In 1980, when researching the files of the prisoners at Tuol Sleng, 6,000 pictures of prisoners, 4,000 confessions and many others documents were found. Among the documents, there were signatures approving lists of prisoners who would be executed, including an instruction paper directing Duch to kill 17 children whose parents were convicted on espionage charges.
Cambodia is reviving thanks to the sacrifices of many Cambodian people and Vietnamese volunteer soldiers. The noble sacrifice for international friendship is a good impression on international friends.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen once said that the genocide regime only existed for four years and if it lasted longer, it was hard to know where Cambodia would go.
“Without the support from Vietnam, we would die,” he said.
Translated by Ngoc Hung
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