Despite a wealth of evidence to the contrary, a defense lawyer for Nuon Chea said on Tuesday that he doubted S-21 prison survivor Chum Mey was ever an inmate at the notorious security center.
Testifying for a second day at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, Mr. Mey, who was one of only a handful of inmates to escape from what is now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, was grilled by Victor Koppe about whether he was actually incarcerated there.
The Dutch lawyer noted that Ung Pech, a fellow survivor of the prison who passed away in the 1990s, failed to mention Mr. Mey when testifying at the hastily convened People’s Revolutionary Tribunal in August of 1979, where Pol Pot and Ieng Sary were both convicted of genocide in absentia and sentenced to death.
Mr. Koppe also asked the former inmate—who is the first person to testify in a new segment of the tribunal’s Case 002 relating to S-21—why his face was never found among the thousands of headshots of prisoners discovered after the prison was abandoned.
“I told you already, the photographer who shot my photograph collected [a] basket load of photographs, and the photographs of me were burned down at the house in the east. The photographer’s name was Nhem En,” Mr. Mey responded.
Mr. Koppe then played a clip from the 1981 film, “Die Angkar,” for which East German filmmakers interviewed survivors of the prison, and asked Mr. Mey why he did not appear.
“I did not know about the arrangement,” Mr. Mey replied.
Finally, the lawyer asked Mr. Mey—who spends most days selling his memoir to tourists at the Tuol Sleng museum—if he had ever been a prisoner there.
“Mr. Civil Party, my very last question—it’s a question I have to ask you so please do not be upset. We have doubts as to you being really an S-21 prisoner. So my question to you is: Were you really an S-21 prisoner?” he asked.
Before Mr. Mey could answer, senior assistant prosecutor Vincent de Wilde interjected, telling Trial Chamber President Nil Nonn that the question was offensive.
“There is no basis whatsoever for this question, Mr. President, which I find humiliating to put this question to someone who lived at S-21,” Mr. de Wilde said, citing Mr. Mey’s formal “confession” to S-21 guards and the testimony of prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, as evidence of his incarceration.
After a debate broke out in the courtroom, Mr. Mey eventually answered the question.
“Yes, I was detained there. If I was not detained there, I swear I would be killed by a car on my way leaving the court,” he said.