Social Affairs Ministry Secretary of State Ahmad Yahya was questioned in court on Tuesday for allegedly defaming Othsman Hassan, his counterpart in the Labor Ministry, in relation to plans for a road to be constructed on land belonging to a Phnom Penh mosque.
The politicians are two of the country’s most prominent Cham Muslims. Mr. Hassan on April 28 filed suit over claims Mr. Yahya had made in an interview with the Thmey Thmey news website that Mr. Hassan was behind the controversial road development, which the local Muslim community has complained runs too close to the mosque.
After appearing at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to be questioned by deputy prosecutor Soeur Vanny, Mr. Yahya said Mr. Hassan had taken umbrage with the claims—and the suggestion he was benefitting from the development.
“First, Othsman Hassan is suing for what I said to the media about the plans, which came from what he told me. Secondly, [I said] he plans to build a condominium over there for ‘benefits,’ but I did not say that the benefits were only for him,” Mr. Yahya said.
Yet Mr. Yahya said there were serious concerns about the road, and also about an apparent land swap to allow the private development of the condominium on the mosque’s land.
“[Mr. Hassan] never held a meeting to discuss it with anyone from the committee of the mosque, and that has caused the problems,” Mr. Yahya said.
“When he went to the mosque and told thousands of people, most of them didn’t agree with him to build the condominium over there, because we need to pray quietly,” he added.
Mr. Yahya said the initial location for the condominium had been changed, moving it closer to the mosque and causing much of the dispute.
Mr. Hassan declined to comment on Tuesday.
Ms. Vanny, the court’s deputy prosecutor, said Mr. Hassan would be called for questioning soon.
“We are still doing more investigations. I can’t tell if he has defamed him yet or not, because the investigations aren’t finished yet,” Ms. Vanny said.