PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Prosecutors at the trial in Cambodia of the surviving top leaders of the former Khmer Rouge regime have begun summing up their case, declaring that despite the defendants' denials, the evidence clearly showed they knew of the suffering and deaths of their countrymen.
Khieu Samphan, the regime's 85-year-old former head of state, and 90-year-old Nuon Chea, right-hand man to the group's late chief, Pol Pot, are being tried on charges including genocide, rape and murder.
The Khmer Rouge's brutal policies during the regime's 1975-79 reign are blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians from execution, starvation and inadequate medical care.
Co-prosecutor Chea Leang on Wednesday described Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge as a "slave state" in which everyone had to toil on huge infrastructure projects or in the rice fields from before dawn until well into the night, and any attempt at escape was punished by death.
"The accused claimed they did not know of the suffering . But we have proved they knew everything," he said. "They were Angkar, the pineapple with many eyes."
Angkar was the term used at the time to refer to the Khmer Rouge government. In the collectivist "Big Brother" society it tried to establish, the concept of privacy barely existed.
The two defendants have already been convicted of crimes against humanity in an earlier trial. Proceedings were split into two parts by the U.N.-backed court for fear that the defendants might die before a verdict was reached if it was kept as one. The portion coming to a close this month began in October 2014.
Nuon Chea did not appear in the courtroom on Wednesday due to ill health. He followed the arguments on a video link in a holding room. Khieu Samphan sat listening to the prosecution case with his team of lawyers.
The accused men are due to address the judges on June 22, the last day of the closing statements. A verdict is expected later in the year.
The Khmer Rouge were a Maoist insurgent group that seized power in 1975 after a bloody, five-year civil war. They immediately attempted a radical transformation of Cambodia into a peasant society, emptying cities and forcing the population to work on the land. They backed up their rule with ruthless elimination of perceived enemies.