A feud between the country’s two most prominent Cham Muslim politicians came to a head on Tuesday as the Phnom Penh Municipal Court heard a defamation case brought against Ahmad Yahya by Othsman Hassan, both secretaries of state for the ruling CPP.
Mr. Hassan, a secretary of state at the Labor Ministry, sued Mr. Yahya, who works at the Ministry of Social Affairs, for allegedly defaming him in an interview with a local media outlet in April. He is seeking $1 million in damages.
Secretary of State Ahmad Yahya, center, stands outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday before his trial for allegedly defaming Secretary of State Othsman Hassan. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily) In the interview, Mr. Yahya claimed that Mr. Hassan had masterminded a controversial new road the government wants to build across property attached to the Al-Serkal Mosque in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood—the largest and most opulent mosque in Cambodia. He went on to imply that Mr. Hassan was motivated by a desire to split the mosque’s land in two and “gain benefits” by partnering with a construction firm to develop the land.
The land on which the mosque was built is jointly owned by two Muslim community associations, including one led by Mr. Hassan.
In court on Tuesday, Koy Kunthy, a lawyer for Mr. Hassan, said that the municipal government had asked the two associations for permission to build the road.
“The one who requested it was City Hall; it was not my client,” he said. “This was not a new thing, and Excellency Ahmad Yahya exaggerated.”
Mr. Yahya asked Presiding Judge Long Kesphirum to dismiss the case, calling the dispute “a family conflict” that would cost the CPP votes if it were allowed to drag on.
“Don’t let it become bigger. Political benefits—and ballots—will be lost,” he said.
However, this concern did not prevent him from presenting evidence to support his case, citing a March 2013 meeting at City Hall during which Mr. Hassan presented a plan for the road’s construction, and producing a witness who testified that he had heard Mr. Hassan talking about plans to build a hotel and restaurant on the mosque’s land.
“I acknowledge that my mistake is that I spoke the truth,” Mr. Yahya concluded.
Judge Kesphirum said a verdict would be announced on August 15.
sony@cambodiadaily.com

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