Cham Muslim women and girls pleaded with Khmer Rouge soldiers to spare them from rape before they were beheaded and thrown into pits along the banks of the Mekong River, a witness told the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Wednesday.
Ahmad Sofiyah, who was born in Kompong Cham province in 1961, was placed in a mobile unit in Kroch Chhmar commune after the Khmer Rouge took control of the country. Although religious curtailment and the oppression of Cham Muslims was commonplace, Ms. Sofiyah said the persecution took a deadly turn in 1978 after she was transferred to a house in Trea village, where she was detained alongside 35 other Cham women and girls.
“When the night was about to fall, they stripped [apart] some pieces of cloth and they went up to the house and they actually instructed us to be tied up,” the witness said.
“Before they tied us up, they sharpened their knives and then they spoke to each other, [saying], ‘Tonight we have a lot of big pigs, so we have to sharpen our knives,’” she said.
After being bound, the young women and girls were interrogated by a Kroch Chhmar district chief named Ho on the subject of their ethnicity, Ms. Sofiyah said. Fearful of the consequences of admitting her Cham roots, she said, she falsely claimed to be ethnic Khmer.
Her fears were confirmed when the 20 women and girls who admitted they were born to Cham or mixed Khmer-Cham parents were marched to a nearby pit. Peeking through cracks in the wall, Ms. Sofiyah said, she then witnessed their gruesome murders.
“I heard the screams, ‘Please don’t rape me,’ but I did not see the raping incident; I only heard the screams of ‘Please don’t rape me,’” she said.
“The pit was pretty large and they placed a wooden plank near the pit and the people were asked to bend their head, then they beheaded them and they fell into the pit. There was a full moon at the time and I saw the event unfold clearly.”
Testifying in the current segment of the trial, in which the prosecution is seeking to prove that Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan specifically targeted Cham Muslims with the intent to destroy them, Ms. Sofiyah told the court that her parents and six siblings were killed during the regime, including two pregnant sisters.
“I, of course, feel much pain, but I could not do anything and I had to turn to religion,” she said.
“If that was the end of their fate, I could not help it, I could not do anything. I felt great pain for my parents and for my pregnant elder sisters.”