muk kampul district, Kandal province – The former site of the Om-Alqura Institute, once Cambodia’s largest Islamic school, has suffered neglect, vandalism and looting since authorities closed it one year ago.
On May 25, 2003, three foreign Muslims were arrested at the school for alleged ties to terrorism. Then about 35 additional foreign Muslim teachers and their dependents, were told they had 72 hours to leave Cambodia.
Almost 600 ethnic Cham students were sent home.
Today, the grounds are unkempt, and furniture lies smashed in empty classrooms. But a new sign out front heralds another life for the school, soon to be known as the Islamic Center of Cambodia. Othsman Hassan, president of the Cambodia Islamic Development Foundation and former CPP parliamentarian, said the school will reopen June 1 with three classes of about 40 students each.
But Kao Soupha, lawyer for the three terror suspects, said Saturday that reopening the school without a ruling in his clients’ case is “completely illegal.”
So far, Thai nationals Abdul Azi Haji Chiming, 35, and Muhammad Yalaludin Mading, 41, and Egyptian national Esam Mohammed Khidr Ali, 41, have spent a year in prison—six months longer than the pretrial detention period allowed by law.
Although authorities said they were shutting the Saudi-based Om-Alqura Institute because it served as a cover for moving terrorist funds, no evidence to support that allegation has been made public.
If the Om-Alqura Institute is not found to be involved with Islamic extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah, as authorities have alleged, then Othsman Hassan’s organization will have illegally usurped its operation, Kao Soupha said.
The suspects’ trial has had a few fitful starts, with presiding Judge Ya Sakhon at one point refusing to read out the charges against the three accused.
Though that last hearing, on Feb 13 at Phnom Penh Municipal Court, left many in attendance confused, it became apparent that Ya Sakhon had altered the charges against the accused.
At their first hearing in May 28, 2003, the three foreigners were charged under Article 2 of the 1992 anti-terrorism law, which pertains to kidnapping and provides for a sentence of 10 to 20 years imprisonment. Now the men are being charged under Article 3 of that law, which pertains to intentional manslaughter for the purpose of terrorism and provides for a life sentence.
Ya Sakhon has not explained the change and last week declined to comment on the case.
Kao Soupha has maintained that neither article applies to his clients and there is no evidence to indicate otherwise.
Regardless, it does not appear that any evidence will be presented anytime soon. A clerk for Ya Sakhon, who spoke last week on condition of anonymity, said he has not written the request for the investigating judge to continue looking into the case and no new trial date has been set.
“I’m so busy. I’m not finished writing the final proposal for further investigation,” the clerk said.
Investigating Judge Oun Bunna confirmed that the case had not been returned to him. “It’s not my fault,” he said.
Kao Soupha dismissed the court officials’ explanations.
“This is a pretext to illegally detain people longer,” he said Friday. “In fact the court officials are really lazy [and] not doing their job.”