The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has rejected a Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarian’s proposal to allow an Egyptian man with suspected links to regional militant group Jemaah Islamiyah to stay at the parliamentarian’s home while he awaits trial, a court official said Sunday.
Municipal Judge Ham Meng Se said he would not release Esam Mohammed Khidr Ali on bail, despite an offer from opposition lawmaker Ahmad Yahya, who is also president of the Cambodian Islamic Association, to shelter the suspect until his scheduled Feb 2 court date.
“We will not take the request into consideration because we will have a trial on Feb 2,” Ham Meng Se said.
Ahmad Yahya, who has served as the Sam Rainsy Party’s point man on Cham affairs since he defected from Funcinpec last year, said Sunday he had written a letter to the court last week
requesting the Egyptian sus-pect’s release since Ali, 40, has been jailed more than eight months without trial. Cambodian law stipulates suspects must be tried within six months of their arrest.
Ali, along with Thai Muslims Abdul Azi Haji Chiming, 35, and Muhammad Yalaludin Mading, 42, was charged in May with terrorism and being tied to Jemaah Islamiyah. Police also closed two Islamic schools where the suspects worked, the Om-Alqura Institute in Kandal province and a second, smaller school run by the same organization in Kompong Chhnang province.
A Cambodian ethnic Cham, Sman Esma El, 23, was arrested on similar charges in June. Officials said the arrests were made on information provided by the US government. All four men are expected to stand trial Feb 2.
Ahmad Yahya said he had conducted his own investigation into Ali’s case and said he believes Ali is innocent.
“He isn’t involved in terrorism,” Ahmad Yahya said.
“I want the judge to release him on bail and let him stay at my house until the trial,” Ahmad Yahya said. He added: “If he escapes, I will be responsible. The judge can confiscate my house and punish me according to the law.”
Ahmad Yahya said he did not intervene on behalf of the Thai and Cambodian suspects because he has not looked into their backgrounds.
The lawmaker attacked the courts for holding Ali, saying there is no evidence against him.
“I don’t want the Arab countries to see that Cambodia is an unjust country,” he said.
Ahmad Yahya, who served during the last government mandate as Funcinpec’s secretary of state at the Ministry of Public Works and Transport, also accused the government of shutting down the Islamic schools without grounds.
“The schools are not related to the terrorism movement,” he said. They should be reopened to Islamic students if the court finds the suspects innocent, he added.
Prime Minister Hun Sen’s adviser Om Yentieng, however, said Sunday that the schools will not be allowed to reopen, regardless of the outcome of the trial.
“The government has decided already to shut down the schools, so whether the judge has evidence or not to convict the suspects, we will not allow the schools to reopen,” Om Yentieng said.
Ham Meng Se, who will preside over the trial, said last week he has asked police for more evidence to support the charges against the suspects, saying it will be “very hard to say what the decision will be.”