Church near KL at centre of protests deemed 'illegal' by city council

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - City council officers have classified the church near Kuala Lumpur that was forced to take down a cross after protests by a group of Muslims as illegal.

Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) said the church was unlicensed as it has not submitted a written application to operate as a place of worship, The Star reported on Tuesday.

MBPJ public relations officer Zainun Zakaria said a three-hour licensing data check had also revealed that the shoplot used as a church "does not have a license to operate as a place of worship".

On Sunday a group of 50 residents gathered outside the church to protest against a cross displayed on the building, claiming that it challenged Islam. The group had demanded the church take down the cross, which was removed at around 2pm on the same day.

The protests over the church is the latest case of religious conflict that has attracted national attention in Malaysia.

It comes after the courts last year ruled against non-Muslims in a longstanding dispute over whether they can use the word "Allah" to refer to God. The dispute led to 351 Malay-language Bibles being seized in the opposition-held state in January last year.

Critics say the protest is politically motivated, pointing to the involvement of a local Umno branch chief, Datuk Abdullah Abu Bakar.

Meanwhile, it was also revealed that the church at Metro Square PJS2B/3 had no permit to put up a cross on its building.

Ms Zainun said the church could make a written application for a licence.

"Shoplots that are converted into places of worship or meditation centres must comply to Act 133 Section 70(12) and a written application with the activities described must be submitted for approval. We need these compliance as to ensure safety of the people using the building," she said.

She added that all places of worship intending to display a logo or symbol on the building must comply with the council's permit.

"Be it a lotus, trident or a cross, a council permit is needed," added Ms Zainun.

MBPJ officers had gone to the shoplot on Monday to meet with church representatives however, no one was around at the time.