KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA - A GROUP of indigenous Malaysian Christians on Thursday demanded the local authorities restore water and electricity so they can use their church which was wrongfully torn down, their lawyer said.
Local authorities in eastern Pahang state tore down the church used by the Orang Asli in 2003 but the federal government in the mainly Muslim nation stepped in and gave them 35,000 ringgit (S$14,760) as compensation to rebuild their house of worship.
But the local government has refused to connect utilities to the building, preventing the community from using it for more than a year.
The Orang Asli have now taken the matter to the Temerloh High Court, their lawyer Annou Xavier told reporters.
'These are very simple people and many of them are illiterate,' Xavier told reporters.
'All they are asking for is that water and electricity be provided so that they can worship in their building and use it as a community hall,' he said.
'The neighbouring areas, just metres away and all Orang Asli homes, have all got water and electricity so what is the problem? Is it just because it's a place of worship?'
However, Pahang state legal adviser Kamal Azirah told the court the government opposed their appeal to review the decision not to connect utilities as it had been filed after the 40-day period allowed for by law.
Judge Abdul Halim Aman said he would rule on whether the review could proceed on July 9.
'The effect of today's hearing is that the utilities will remain disconnected from the Orang Asli church until the hearing proper and that will take months,' Mr Xavier said.
Many indigenous peoples, who live in the interior of mainland Malaysia and in the jungles of Borneo island, are Christians who were converted by foreign missionaries in the early 20th century.
The court case comes as minority religious groups in Muslim-majority Malaysia fear their rights are being undermined, even though the country is traditionally seen as moderate.
In recent months, there have been controversies over the construction of the world's tallest Taoist Goddess of the Sea statue on Borneo island and the destruction of Hindu temples by local authorities. -- AFP