Christian Tribe Sues Malaysian Gov't for Destroying Church

Christian indigenous villagers are suing Malaysia's sole Islamic state government for destroying their church, claiming it was an illegal act since the land the church was located on belonged to them.

Members of the Temiar tribe, one of some 18 ethnic tribes known as the Orang Asli ("Original People"), had built the church in their remote jungle village, said N. Subramaniyan, the villagers' lawyer. Shortly after completion, authorities demolished the church last June.

The Kelantan state government said it was illegally built on state land and that the villagers ignored notices to stop construction. Azlan Abdul Halim, the counsel representing the Kelantan government, said the demolition did not have to do with religion.

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"By law, any building has to get approval," he told The Associated Press. "It doesn't matter if the building is a church or a house ... this has nothing to do with religion."

Pastor Moses Soo, whose Christian group had helped the villagers to build the church, told AP that the destruction of the church by the state government was a sign of discrimination against Christians.

Orang Asil tribes make up less than 1 percent of the 27 million people in the Muslim state.

The Temiar tribe has challenged the state government, saying the land belonged to them. They are hoping the court will declare the land to be legally theirs which will thus give them the right to build the church without the danger of it being torn down by authorities.

A community hall, built by local authorities, has replaced the church.

Villagers, however, "don't want a community hall. They want a church," Soo told AP.

The court case was originally scheduled to be heard Tuesday but the Malaysian High Court postponed trial until May.

Malaysia has recently gone through a period of high-profile court cases to protect the secular identity of the multi-racial state by the minority population. Last month, a Christian widower launched a legal case alleging the Malaysian Islamic Council was trying to perform Muslim rites on his dead wife.

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