The Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday continued hearing evidence on charges of genocide related to the persecution of the Cham Muslim community during the Pol Pot regime, as witness It Sen wrapped up his testimony and civil party Sos Ponyamin took the stand.
Part of the ongoing Case 002/02 against former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, both testimonies discussed separate Cham uprisings in Koh Phal and Svay Khleang and subsequent atrocities suffered by the ethnic minority in Kampong Cham province as the Khmer Rouge solidified its control of the area in its early years.
Although Sen wasn’t involved in the rebellion directly, he relayed information he had heard from his in-laws about an uprising in Koh Phal, an island in Kroch Chhmar district. He confirmed that he had heard Chams had “chopped” some cadres to death.
“Cham people who had swords [and] knives were killed by the Khmer Rouge at the time,” Sen said, adding that he heard artillery had even been used.
Chea defender Victor Koppe attempted to use a Human Rights Watch Report, a document that the trial chamber said was inadmissible, that said Prime Minister Hun Sen was part of the battalion in charge of the crackdown, though this was met with numerous objections.
It Sen then told the court about how he was ordered to leave his home village of Ampil.
When he arrived in Trea village, he told the court, Chams were split up in groups – men, women with children and single women – and the men were taken to homes and tied up. He did not know where the women were taken.
Afterward, civil party Ponyamin addressed the court and offered his testimony about an uprising he helped organise in Svay Khleang.
Although he said the Khmer Rouge attempted to use propaganda to sway the Cham into joining their revolution at first, things quickly changed for the minority when Phnom Penh fell in April of 1975.
“In 1975, the regime started to impose restrictions on our religion and forced us to eat pork, and they did not allow us to fast,” he said.
Ponyamin joined other Chams and attempted to revolt after reports that 80 Chams were to be arrested. He said he knew they’d be killed due to their lack of weapons, though he maintained they had “no choice.”
Participants in the revolt were killed, tortured and detained. Hundreds were forced to evacuate to Dambe district, rowing boats in the pouring rain for almost 18 hours with little to no food.
Considered “new people,” Ponyamin said the Cham in Dambe had “no rights” and were not even allowed to speak their own language as they toiled away.Testimony continues today.