Handing down its decision in a dispute between two of the country’s most prominent Muslim politicians, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Monday found Social Affairs Ministry Secretary of State Ahmad Yahya guilty of defaming Othsman Hassan, his counterpart in the Labor Ministry.
Mr. Yahya was ordered to pay 100 million riel, or about $25,000, in compensation to Mr. Hassan, well below the $1 million that he had requested upon filing the complaint.
The dispute centered around claims that Mr. Yahya made in an interview in April accusing Mr. Hassan of organizing and benefiting from a controversial road project that would cross into the compound of the iconic Al-Serkal Mosque in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood.
“There is no one other than Othsman Hassan who drew up the plan and gave it to City Hall to have it passed,” Mr. Yahya told the Thmey Thmey news service on April 28, going on to suggest that Mr. Hassan was also involved in plans for a private condominium development on the land.
Presiding Judge Long Kesphirum announced on Monday that the claims amounted to defamation.
“After review of the evidence from the plaintiff and listening to the defendant, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court has decided to fine Ahmad Yahya 5 million riel (about $1,250)…and compensate the victim, Othsman Hassan, with 100 million riel,” the judge told the court.
Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse, Mr. Yahya held up a handful of documents and said that his claims about Mr. Hassan’s involvement in the road plans, which have divided the city’s Muslim community, were demonstrably true.
“What I said is true about Othsman Hassan providing his assistance,” he said, explaining that he had given the court a map of the road plan that he said was drawn by Mr. Hassan and his assistants.
“They claimed the decision was based on evidence, so how about our evidence?” he said. “Did they review it and process it for this case?”
Mr. Hassan could not be reached on Monday.