To many of us, though, school is a complex of which, students may find reinforced concrete buildings, playgrounds where students enjoy with their peers to the utmost of their excitement, Tuol Sleng High School tells a different story – the story that still daunts today as the most horrifying nightmare to which almost nothing could possibly relate.
To the people of Phnom Penh, the Capital of Cambodia, who had lived prior to the darkest history that started when Pol Pot, the leader of the notorious Pol Pot regime, “successfully liberated” Cambodia on 17 April 1975, Tuol Svay Prey High School complex, consisted of 3 three-story buildings were then renamed “Security Prison 21″ and converted into one of the most secured prisons tasked with strict duties to interrogate, torture and exterminate whom had been viewed as enemies to the regime.
Within the complex, having been enclosed with barbed wires and might have been tightly patrolled, in a span of roughly 4 years, Pol Pot had an estimate of 20,000 people imprisoned and killed. Most of the victims were intellectuals who had lived and served as, for example, academics and government officials under the previous regime, while the last few months of the center’s existence saw the murders of the regime’s leaderships from all over the country.
Survivors often describe Tuol Sleng as “[people] were seen in, but never [had they been] brought out”. Prisoners who passed the center went through a series of procedures: upon arrival at the prison, they were photographed and asked to give an accurate autobiographies, beginning with their childhood and ending with their arrest, before they were stripped to their underwear and taken to their cells; those taken to the smaller cells were shackled to the walls or the concrete floor, while those in the large mass cells were collectively shackled to long pieces of iron bar. The shackles were fixed to alternating bars; the prisoners slept with their heads in opposite directions without mats, mosquito nets, or blanket. The prisoners were forbidden to talk to each other.
Prisoners were routinely beaten and tortured with electric shocks, searing hot metal instruments and hanging, as well as through the use of various other devices. Some prisoners were cut with knives or suffocated with plastic bags. Other horrible methods for generating confessions included pulling out fingernails while pouring alcohol on the wounds, holding prisoners’ heads under water, and the use of the waterboarding technique.
The museum’s entrance is on the western side of Street 113 just north of Street 350 and open daily from 7 to 11:30 a.m. and from 2:00 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.; the entry is US$2.
By Sivutha Tan, ASEAN Correspondent from Cambodia