Meanwhile, officials and scholars debate whether or not Muslim protesters violated Sedition Act
Church officials forced to remove a cross by a group of protesters this week in Malaysia should return the Christian symbol back to its original place, Selangor state authorities said.
The Selangor state government’s Committee on Non-Islam Affairs (HESI) said that churches operating in commercial premises only need to notify the committee and are not required to have a permit, HESI co-chairperson Elizabeth Wong said in a statement Tuesday.
“The state government finds the forcible removal of the cross to be abhorrent to Christians and to the fundamentals of freedom of worship enshrined in the Federal Constitution,” Wong said in the statement.
On Sunday, some 50 people protested in front of a new church in Taman Medan in Petaling Jaya, near Kuala Lumpur, and demanded that the cross be removed because it was "challenging Islam" in the predominantly Muslim neighborhood. The church took down the cross a few hours after the protest.
Following the incident, Wong said a meeting was convened Tuesday between HESI advisers, Petaling Jaya city councilors, and representatives of the church, called the ”Community of Praise Petaling Jaya Church".
At the meeting, HESI was informed that members of the local Christian community had begun meeting at the church since August of last year, and that the cross was only put up outside its premises April 17.
The meeting also heard that the protesters, most of whom are said to be members of the United Malays National Organization, the country’s largest political party, had harassed Christians who were attending their regular Sunday service.
"In the meeting, we have advised the church to return the cross to its original site to stop this precedent of mob rule by politically-aligned extremists," Wong said.
Wong said the Selangor state government wants the police to take the case seriously to ensure that the safety of worshippers are protected at all times and that there will be no repeats of such cases.
Protesters violated law
Jagir Singh, president of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), said that the protesters’ actions were illegal.
"For calling for the cross to be removed and forcing the church to do so, that is an immediate offense under Section 298 of the Penal Code which is uttering words with the intent on hurting the religious feelings of another,” he said. "It is also an offense under the Sedition Act.”
Inspector-General of Police Khalid Abu Bakar on Monday cleared the protesters of sedition, but was contradicted by Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who said those involved could have legal action taken against them under the Sedition Act.
On Tuesday, Khalid said the police would investigate any police report lodged on the incident, and promised not to interfere. His older brother, Abdullah Abu Bakar, took part in the protest.
Jagir also pointed out that there is nothing in the constitution requiring a church to register its place of worship.
"Article 11(3) states that each religion has a right to acquire property and to regulate their own affairs without any approval," he said. "So the question of illegality does not, at all, arise here."
He added: "Worship can be done in every house, in every shop in commercial areas. You don't need special permission for that. Those who have shops have altars in their premises and pray … does this mean they require a license to do so?"
Christian Federation of Malaysia executive secretary Tan Kong Beng said there was a general misconception that churches had to be registered before they could operate.
"This is not true. They don't actually have to be registered. But registration does help facilitate buying land, setting up bank accounts and other purposes," he said.
Source: The Malaysian Insider
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