Anger Over Mosque Road Plan Leads to Defamation Lawsuit

Two of the country’s most prominent Cham Muslim politicians are locked in a legal battle over allegations of defamation, with Secretary of State Ahmad Yahya scheduled to appear in court today to be questioned over a lawsuit filed against him last month by Secretary of State Othsman Hassan.

Mr. Hassan, a secretary of state at the Labor Ministry, sued Mr. Yahya, who holds the same position at the Social Affairs Ministry, on April 28, according to a copy of a summons issued by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court ordering Mr. Yahya to appear for questioning at a hearing today.

Prosecutor Souer Vanny, who issued the summons, declined yesterday to provide more information on the case, as did court spokesman Ly Sophanna and Mr. Yahya himself.

Mr. Hassan refused to explain why he had sued Mr. Yahya, saying only that the politician had spoken falsely about him.

“What he claimed was incorrect and not true, so I filed a lawsuit against him,” he said.

The city’s Muslim community has been riven in recent weeks over a government proposal to build a road across land belonging to the $2.9 million Al-Serkal Mosque, which was built in the Boeng Kak neighborhood between 2012 and 2015.

In an interview with local news website Thmey Thmey on April 28, Mr. Yahya accused Mr. Hassan of having masterminded the road plan.

“There is no one other than Othsman Hassan who drew up the plan and gave it to City Hall to have it passed,” he said, suggesting that Mr. Hassan might have also been involved in a land swap to build a condominium on the mosque’s land.

“I did not know anything [about the plan] and I am the one who gave the idea that we should not do it,” he added.

Deputy municipal governor Khuong Sreng denied that Mr. Hassan had committed any wrongdoing in the matter of the mosque.

“There is no truth; [Mr. Yahya] just blamed the mistake on the other until he sued him,” he said. “That land still belongs to the mosque and there is no plan to swap or develop over the area.”

Mr. Sreng said City Hall held a meeting on Monday about the proposed road but declined to elaborate on what was discussed.

Sles Nas, a representative of Cham Muslims in the neighborhood, said residents were distressed by the idea of a road cutting through the mosque compound.

“It will affect when we pray. We need a quiet area,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Ouch Sony)

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