Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Removal of the Cross at Taman Medan - Selangor Press Statement

21 April 2015
On the forcible removal of the Cross at Taman Medan

1. Following the unwarranted and disturbing incident outside a Church at Taman Medan, a meeting was convened this morning with representatives of the Community of Praise Petaling Jaya Church, advisors to the State Committee on Non-Islam Affairs (HESI), councilors of Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) Mr FK Tang and Mr Peter Chong, Member of Parliament Petaling Jaya Selatan YB Hee Loy Sian and state representatives YB Hannah Yeoh and YB R. Rajiv.
2. In the meeting, several matters were clarified. They include:-
2.1 That the Church has been meeting since August 2014, serving Christians from the community;
2.2 That the Cross was put up on 17th April 2015 outside the premises;
2.3 That the violent protest held by Umno branch on 19th April 2015 had intimidated the Christians who were there at their regular Sunday service and had forced the Pastor to bring down the Cross out of fear for the safety of the congregation.
3. In addition, MBPJ Councillors also clarified that since 2008, the previous State Committee on Non-Islam Affairs (then known as State Committee on Non-Islam Places of Worship or RIBI) has allowed Churches to operate in commercial premises or offices without the need for application of permits, only by way of notification to the committee. This is based on the principle that Article 11 of the Federal Constitution embodies freedom of worship.

4. Therefore, today's statement by the Public Relations Officer of MBPJ as reported in The Star newspaper that Churches in office blocks need to apply for permits is not accurate. There is no such policy put forward by the state committee HESI. A notification to HESI committee suffices. And if any local councils have any issues or questions, they are to refer back to the HESI committee.
5. There are however existing guidelines on stand-alone Non-Islamic Buildings of Worship which cover land applications, land conversions, buildings, demolitions and applications for funds.
6. As firmly expressed by the Menteri Besar YAB Azmin Ali yesterday, 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. In the meeting, we have advised the Church to return the Cross to its origin site to stop this precedent of mob rule by politically-aligned extremists.
7. At the same time, we call upon the Royal Malaysian Police to take this matter very seriously in order to ensure the safety of worshippers are protected at all times and there will be no repeats of such cases in Selangor.

Released by:
YB Elizabeth Wong
Co-Chair, State Committee on Non-Islam Affairs
Selangor State Executive Councillor

Monday, April 20, 2015

Churches have right to display cross under Constitution, say lawyers

Published: Monday April 20, 2015 MYT 10:47:00 AM 
Updated: Monday April 20, 2015 MYT 11:03:48 AM

Intolerance: Protesters outside the Taman Medan church before the cross was removed.
Intolerance: Protesters outside the Taman Medan church before the cross was removed
PETALING JAYA: Churches have a right to display the cross on their buildings under the Federal Constitution and should not be forced to take it down.
“Under Article 11, all Malaysians have a right to practise their own religion and the cross is an integral and indispensable part of the Christian faith – so it comes under the rights of Malaysians under Article 11(1) of the Federal Constitution,” said constitutional lawyer New Sin Yew.
He said that Article 11(1) reads that every person has the right to profess and practice his religion and, subject to Clause (4), to propagate it.
Article 11(4) reads that state law and in respect of the Federal Territories of Kuala Lumpur and Labuan, Federal law may control or restrict the propagation of any religious doctrine or belief among persons professing the religion of Islam, he added.
He further questioned the argument put forward by the demonstrators in Taman Medan on Sunday that the sight of the cross in a Muslim-majority area “challenged Islam” and could influence the young.
A group of 50 demonstrators had gathered outside a church in Taman Medan on Sunday to protest against a cross on the facade of the building.
They had demanded for the cross to be taken down, claiming that it challenged Islam.
It is understood that the cross was taken down by church authorities several hours later.  
“You need strong and credible evidence to prove that hanging a cross outside a church would constitute propagation of the Christian faith to Muslims. It would be absurd to suggest that hanging a cross outside a building would amount to propagating Christianity to Muslims,” said New.
He noted also that the group should not have taken matters into their own hands.
“Even if the church should not use a shophouse as a church, the mob should not take matters into their own hands and ignore the whole legal system. They should report the matter to the relevant local authorities or file a suit in court and let the relevant public bodies decide,” he added.
Similar views were shared by Lawyers for Liberty co-founder Eric Paulsen, who also said the church has a right to place the cross outside their building due to Article 11 of the Federal Constitution.
“The issue is much more one of local council, and if the church authorities have received the relevant approvals from the MBPJ, they have a legal right to put the cross on the building. It is quite misguided to say that because an area is majority-Malay Muslim, it is misguided to say that only their rights count,” said Paulsen.
He said that in any society, the rights of minorities deserved as much protection as those of the majority in an area, and cited an international example.
Source: http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Nation/2015/04/20/Churches-right-to-display-cross/

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Public debate of ideas best defence against intolerance, says US in Sedition Act caution

Wednesday April 15, 2015
11:08 AM GMT+8

KUALA LUMPUR, April 15 — The US today cautioned Putrajaya over its amendments to the Sedition Act 1948, saying that new provisions in the colonial-era law could end up criminalising public debate.
The US Department of State said it was “particularly worrying” that the new provisions would increase penalties, especially for first-time offenders, and could also make it illegal to share allegedly seditious material on social media.
“The public debate of ideas can be among the best protections against intolerance and can play a positive role in strengthening democracy and combating hatred,” it said in a brief statement.
“We welcome the decision to remove provisions outlawing criticism of the government and the judiciary, and we hope the government of Malaysia will therefore reconsider recent sedition charges brought under those now-defunct sections of the law,” the statement added.
Last week, Parliament passed amendments to the Act that effectively provide the authorities wider jurisdiction to act on speech or activities that are seen as seditious in nature.
Putrajaya’s amendments will allow for criticism of the government in a bid to “create transparent and accountable administration” amid widespread opprobrium over the use of the Act on political dissenters if passed by Parliament.
However, they also made it an offence to excite “ill will, hostility or hatred” on grounds of religion and race as well as to demand the secession of a state from Malaysia, while maintaining prohibitions towards exciting disaffection against the rulers or questioning issues such as Bumiputera privileges.
The Bill also added a new section that imposes a penalty of between five and 20 years jail for sedition crimes that cause bodily harm or property damage, while it increases the jail term for general sedition crimes to between three and seven years.
Prior to the amendments, the colonial era law imposed a maximum three-year jail term or maximum RM5,000 fine on first time offenders, and a maximum five-year jail term for repeat offenders.
Another new section states that a judge shall order the prevention of access to an online publication deemed to be seditious.
Up to 150 opposition leaders and activists have been hauled up under the Sedition Act recently.
Putrajaya previously pledged to repeal the Sedition Act that critics say is used to stifle political opposition and dissent, but later announced in November last year that it will be retained and expanded instead.
Source: http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/public-debate-of-ideas-best-defence-against-intolerance-says-US-in-Seditio