Second Church Threatened with Demolition in Malaysia

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

By Joseph C. DeCaro, Worthy News International Correspondent

KOTA BARU, Malaysia (Worthy News)-- A second church in Orang Asli is slated for destruction even though the native parishoners don't know why.

The church, located in a forested area of Pos Pasik, is only accessibly by four-wheel drive.

"The community has always had bamboo churches which have to be replaced once every two years," said Moses Soo, bishop of all Orang Asli churches in Kelantan. "Two years ago, the government began providing brick houses for the villagers and this sparked the idea of a brick church too."

Cash for the church construction, which began in May, was raised by the community and aided by Soo.

"As a gesture of courtesy, the villagers sent a letter to the Department of Orang Asli Affairs informing it of their plans," said Soo. "In August, they received a reply from the JHEOA Deputy Director-General Nisra Nisran Asra Ramlan, saying that permission was denied and they were to stop work immediately."

However, with the church nearly complete, the Orang protested that they were not seeking permission from JHEOA and that their letter was merely a notification.

"The land belongs to the Orang Asli and they consider it their right to build a church on it," said Soo. "Furthermore, the JHEOA didn't provide any reasons for its decision so the villagers sought legal counsel."

Lawyer Lum See Cheng advised the Orang Asli to ignore the JHEOA letter; he formally told JHEOA that its permission was not needed and also requested reasons for its rejection.

"The JHEOA is only responsible for the Orang Asli welfare," Cheng said. "It has no authority to issue such orders, and by denying the Orang Asli a safer building, it is in fact going against its role of taking care of their welfare."

"This is a religion-related issue," Cheng claimed. "Otherwise, I don't see why the authorities would be so interested in meddling in the affairs of people who live deep in the heart of the jungle."

If the church is demolished, it would be the second such incident in Kelantan: in 2007, an Orang Asli church in Gua Musang was demolished on orders from the Gua Musang District Council. The case was presented to the Kota Baru High Court in 2009, which deemed the demolition unlawful because the notice served was only seven instead of the obligatory 30 days.

"But Pos Pasik is outside the council's jurisdiction," Lum said, "so no authorities have any grounds to deny the villagers the church that they are building out of their own efforts and funds."

Although the Orang Asli have no title to the land, it belongs to them by default.