Two Cham Muslim men revealed harrowing details of their suffering under the Democratic Kampuchea regime at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.
Civil party Meu Peou, who was only 13 or 14 when the Khmer Rouge came to power, told the court how he had lost 17 members of his family.
He said his uncle was accused of betraying Angkar – the term, meaning “the organisation”, by which the Khmer Rouge referred to itself – and was arrested and tortured.
“He was chopped into pieces alive and his body was salted,” Peou said.
The Cham were singled out under the Khmer Rouge for their distinct language and culture, and adherence to Islam. Their alleged genocide is one the most serious charges being examined in the current Case 002/02.
Peou yesterday described the pain of losing his father to a slow starvation, after his father – a devout Muslim – refused to eat pork.
“I think it would [have been] better if they were to kill him and not let him suffer.”
Under questioning from pro-secution and defence lawyers, Peou also detailed how the Khmer Rouge imprisoned him, killed people in front of him and separated Cham families.
“We lost our own identity, we lost our own religion,” Peou said. “This kind of suffering was like a shadow following me every day.”
Later in the day, civil party Man Sles, from Kampong Cham province, said his father and other religious leaders were arrested, and his community was forbidden to pray or read the Koran, which prompted the Cham to rebel.
“We came to understand we no longer could survive … We had to resist for the survival of our religion,” Sles said.
Questioning co-defendants Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, Sles asked why their regime considered Islam “reactionary” or “feudalist”. “Why did the Khmer Rouge hate Cham people?” he asked, receiving no response.
At the end of the day, civil party Sieng Chanthy began relating the psychological harm she suffered after her ethnically Vietnamese father committed suicide under Pol Pot’s rule.
Chanthy said her father hanged himself from a tree with a krama after two Vietnamese families in their village were taken away, and two daughters from those families were raped.
“My father committed suicide because he wanted all of us to survive,” she said.
The alleged genocide of the Vietnamese is also being tried in the current case. Chanthy will continue her testimony today.