Phnom Penh (Cambodia): Prosecutors in the genocide trial of a former Khmer Rouge prison chief demanded a 40-year jail sentence Wednesday for a man who they described as snuffing out innocent lives and spreading terror across Cambodia.
Kaing Guek Eav commanded the notorious S-21 prison, where those accused of disloyalty to the xenophobic communist regime were held. He oversaw the torture and execution of about 16,000 men, women and children during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 rule.
Some 1.7 million Cambodians died of torture, execution, disease and starvation during the Khmer Rouge's rule, during which the Maoist ideologues emptied cities and forced virtually the entire population to work on farm collectives.
Co-prosecutor William Smith told the court that Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch (pronounced DOIK), acknowledged his guilt and had given evidence against other Khmer Rouge leaders. But he said Duch must be held accountable for his "unrelenting brutality" at S-21.
"The sentence to be imposed by this trial chamber should be 40 years imprisonment," Smith said, adding that five years had been taken off the request for his cooperation and five more for time already served.
"Your honors should be mindful of the dreams and opportunities that were denied, also keep in mind the S-21's unrelenting brutality that was meted out with no mercy to all prisoners including hundreds of children — the most defenseless of victims," he said. "Finally, bear in mind the loss and suffering of the families of the victims who are still suffering to this very day."
Duch, scheduled to take the stand later Wednesday in his defense, is expected to be sentenced early next year.
He showed no reaction when the sentence recommendation was read.
If the tribunal finds him guilty, the former schoolteacher could still face a maximum penalty of life in prison. Cambodia has no death penalty.
Duch is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, murder and torture. He has denied personally killing or torturing the S-21 prisoners, and testified that he acted with reluctance on orders from his superiors, saying he feared for the safely of his family and himself.
Survivors of the S-21 have described how they were routinely beaten, received electric shocks, had their toenails torn out, and were waterboarded. Surgeries were performed on detainees without anesthetics.
Duch believed in communist and revolutionary ideals and the Khmer Rouge trusted him to carry out the grisliest of orders, Smith said.
In his testimony, Duch has accepted responsibility for his role in overseeing the prison and asked for forgiveness from victims' families. He also told the court he was ready to accept heavy punishment for his actions.
Duch is the only accused Khmer Rouge leader to acknowledge responsibility for his actions. Four other senior Khmer Rouge leaders are in custody awaiting trial.
First Published: Wednesday, November 25, 2009, 10:06