Trial told of Muslim power dispute

High Court libel case hears 'opportunists' attempted to take over association after death of its leader created an authority 'vacuum'

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 September, 2014, 4:05am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 September, 2014, 4:33am

Details of a deep rift among members of a Muslim association in Hong Kong, prompted by the death of its founder in 2009, were revealed in the High Court yesterday.

On the opening day of a defamation case, the court heard that after Mohamed Alli Din, who founded the United Muslim Association of Hong Kong, died in December 2009, a "power vacuum" emerged. The leadership of the association faltered, with many members of the council of management either failing to turn up to meetings or attending only occasionally, according to lawyers for the defendants.

The association was established in 1997 as a charitable institution and operated a primary school and a home for elderly Muslims in the New Territories.

On February 7, 2010, shortly after Din died, some members of the association - the plaintiffs in the defamation case - held what they said was its annual general meeting and voted for a new council of management.

But other members - the defendants - claimed this meeting was illegal and invalid because the meeting was not held by the elected council of management.

In February 2012, the plaintiffs published a notice for another annual general meeting to be held the following month to ratify and approve the results of the 2010 meeting.

Before the March meeting, the defendants - including Amina Norman, the widow of Alli Din - published a notice that said the plaintiffs were not legitimate members of the association.

The notice said that after Din's death "some opportunists tried to hijack the organisation which caused serious damage to the reputation of the organisation". The plaintiffs maintain they were defamed by this.

Barrister Hylas Chung for the defendants argued truth as a defence in the defamation case because the "plaintiffs were not members", and that it was fair comment.

In a counterclaim, Chung also argued the February 7, 2010, meeting was invalid because the plaintiffs failed to give 21 days notice of the meeting. The notice was published in the South China Morning Post on January 19, 2010.

Ernest Koo, for the plaintiffs, argued that one of the plaintiffs, Syed Jamil Raghbi, had been a member since 1999 and noted two application forms that showed this.

Seven days have been set aside for the case before deputy High Court judge Madam Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah.

The case continues today.