Cham Leader Protests to King Over Detensions

Opposition parliamentarian Ah­mad Yahya, prominent member of Cam­bodia’s Cham community,  has written to King Norodom Sihanouk to protest the eight-month detention without trial of three foreign Muslims accused of terrorism.

Calling the terrorism case ag­ainst the three a “political game” which the Cambodian government is using to impress a patron country, Ahmad Yahya said the detentions are unlawful and an­other example of discrimination against Muslims in Cambodia.

“I compare this government to a second Pol Pot government. Only during Pol Pot’s time were Islamic schools and mosques closed,” wrote Ahmad Yahya, adding that only the King could ensure justice.

“This issue, according to my research, is politically motivated, not a terrorism issue. The Phnom Penh Municipal Court and the Supreme Court got pressure from superiors, and Islam is being used as a game.”

The Supreme Court refused bail on Wednesday for Thai Muslims Abdul Azi Haji Chiming, 35, Muhammad Yalaludin Mad­ing, 41, and Egyptian Esam Mo­hammed Khidr Ali, 40, despite the fact that they have been jailed for more than two months longer than the lawful six-month pre-trial detention period.

The three were arrested in May on charges of international terrorism linked to the regional militant group Jemaah Islamiyah.

“Look at Indonesia. When they arrest someone, they tell the public and provide the evidence. We want to see things like that, not just to suspect someone [without trial],” Ahmad Yahya said   Thursday.

“If the court does not respect the law, how will anyone else respect the law? This has damaged the reputation of Cam­bodia,” he said.

Ahmad Yahya said that he has conducted his own investigation and believes that Egyptian suspect Esam Mohammed Khidr Ali is innocent of any wrongdoing. Ahmad Yahya had earlier offered to stand as a guarantor for the suspect, offering a room at his house if he was re­leased on bail, and a personal assurance that the suspect would not flee the country.

Most development projects for the Chams come from Islamic countries, he said. The government’s closure of two schools funded by the Saudi Arabia-based Om-Alqura organization, where the three suspects worked, was a blow to poor Cambodian Mus­lims, Ahmad Yahya added.

The UN Development Pro­gram, the Cambodian government, the US Agency for In­ter­national Development and other aid authorities have ignored the Chams, he said.

“There are many kinds of assistance,” he said. “But I don’t see any projects in the Cham villages. How many millions, but no attention to the Cham? Why? Because they are Muslim. This is discrimination.”

Om Yentieng, an adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen and head of the government’s human rights commission, rejected those claims on Thursday.

Ahmad Yahya, “open your eyes wide before you say something,” Om Yentieng said by telephone.

“The long detention was made by the court, not arbitrarily by the government. The government never discriminates against Mus­lim people,” Om Yentieng said.

“We arrested them because we care about the Muslim people,” said Om Yentieng, adding that authorities wanted to protect the Chams from the influence of foreign terrorists.

Kao Soupha, the lawyer for the three suspects, has claimed that police and court prosecutors do not have enough evidence to convict his clients.

However, an intelligence report alleges that one of the Thai suspects admitted last year—under questioning by police and US government agents—that he attempted to obtain fake Cam­bodian passports for a man identified as Hambali, Jemaah Islam­iyah’s now captured chief of operations.

US Embassy officials have consistently stated they do not comment on issues of intelligence.


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