A former S-21 prison photographer who said he was “proud” of propaganda films he made during the Democratic Kampuchea regime yesterday told the Khmer Rouge tribunal he buried cameras and keepsakes before escaping the advancing Vietnamese army.
Nhem En, who defected from the Khmer Rouge in the mid-1990s and served as deputy governor of former stronghold of Anlong Veng, returned to continue his testimony about Tuol Sleng prison in Case 002/02 against ex-regime leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.
Toiling in a darkroom with a heady mix of chemicals, En described how he slowly brought photos to light, revealing portraits of the dead. “After I developed the negatives, I could see that many, many people were killed,” he said.
“High-ranking officials were killed and their throats were slashed.”
The gruesome prints, En said, would then be sent as evidence to Pol Pot and Khmer Rouge defence minister Son Sen. The prison’s medical officer, En testified, was killed and had his gall bladder removed.
Apart from his photography duties at S-21, En shot stills and video of rallies and mass labour activities, including at Trapeang Thma and the 1st January dam worksites, both of which are being investigated in the current case.
“We only shot good frames in order to attract the viewers,” he said. “I was pretty proud of the products we produced at the time.”
En said while he was greeted by happy, well-dressed workers, he believed “this was just a facade”, and he could not determine what happened behind the scenes.
When probed as to how En could possibly be in possession of cameras and photos from S-21 when he fled carrying only a gold pen, a watch and a rifle, En claimed he buried items near Tuol Sleng and unearthed them in 1990, more than 10 years later.
He also claimed he gathered photos from Pol Pot’s house after the former leader’s death.
Using the term “injustice”, En testified that children and infants who were brought into the centre with their mothers “could not escape the killing”, but was promptly reprimanded by trial chamber president Nil Nonn.
“‘Justice’ or ‘injustice’ . . . to you is simple, but it has very deep meaning within the judicial system,” Nonn said.
En said that he was only ever drawn to speak to one of his thousands of photographic subjects after secretly reading the prisoner’s biography and discovering he was in the same district committee as En’s brother.
En will continue his testimony today.