S-21 Photographer Recounts the Murdering of Innocents

Former S-21 photographer Nhem En told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Wednesday that he believed only a small fraction of the thousands of people who perished at the prison were guilty of their alleged crimes and claimed he was in possession of a large collection of unseen documents and memorabilia.

Mr. En—whose photographs of the Phnom Penh security center’s estimated 12,000 victims line the walls of what is now the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum—called the killings there an “injustice.”

Nhem En testifies at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (ECCC)
Nhem En testifies at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Phnom Penh on Tuesday. (ECCC)

“The purges were [an] injustice for the victims, namely those who died at Tuol Sleng. Maybe thousands of people had been killed at Tuol Sleng and maybe only about 100 of them…actually committed an offense,” Mr. En said.

The former photographer said that letters received from the regime’s upper echelons and signed in red ink would include the names of prisoners set to be executed.

“There was…the city messengers group who sent documents to Pol Pot. Usually when the document returned with a signature in red pen then those prisoners would be killed later on. Sometimes prisoners were ordered to be taken away by Son Sen,” he said, referring to the Khmer Rouge defense minister.

Mr. En also said he attended speeches delivered by Pol Pot outlining plans to eliminate those thought to be CIA and KGB agents who had infiltrated the country, as well as “Yuon agents” from Vietnam intent on “swallowing the territory” of Cambodia.

Mr. En served as deputy district governor for the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Anlong Veng in Oddar Meanchey province after the communists laid down their arms in the late 1990s.

A controversial figure, he has made numerous attempts to cash in on his survival story, including attempting to sell Pol Pot’s sandals and toilet seat. Last year, the Culture Ministry banned him from selling his memoir inside the grounds of the Tuol Sleng museum, citing his dubious claims to victimhood and suspicions that he had passed off other people’s photographs as his own.

Trial Chamber President Nil Nonn became visibly frustrated with Mr. En over the course of his testimony on Wednesday, repeatedly reprimanding him for giving long-winded answers that failed to address questions put to him.

In the final session of the day, Judge Jean-Marc Lavergne quizzed Mr. En on his claim that he was in possession of a large collection of Khmer Rouge-era documents including photos, recordings of revolutionary songs and video footage of leaders including murderous Southwest Zone commander Ta Mok.

“Those photographs were taken by me,” Mr. En said. “I retrieved some photos from Pol Pot’s house after he passed away.”

“Sometimes I showed some documents to the investigators or the judges and I didn’t dare to risk to present those documents to other entities including the DC-Cam,” he said, referring to the Documentation Center of Cambodia.

“I still have 19 video cameras with me. They were given to me by Ta Mok and Pol Pot. I am in love with all this equipment. Although some of them do not function…they have historical value for me.”


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