Courts leave Selangor temple row in limbo

The incident was reportedly triggered by the fracas between two opposing groups over the relocation of the Sri Maha Mariamman temple.
The incident was reportedly triggered by the fracas between two opposing groups over the relocation of the Sri Maha Mariamman temple. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

No swift end in sight to land dispute after temple wins one lawsuit and loses another

A land dispute involving a Hindu temple that became the site of riots in Malaysia this week is nowhere near a resolution despite the new government's assurance to swiftly resolve the matter.

In two separate court hearings yesterday, the temple both won and lost lawsuits challenging its relocation by a developer who owns the land in Subang Jaya in Selangor state, about 40 minutes by road from Kuala Lumpur.

The suits, filed by different individuals representing the temple, had sought to prevent One City Development from relocating the temple.

Both cases, heard in the High Court by separate judges, had different outcomes - leaving the temple dispute at an impasse.

Selangor Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari gave his assurance that the temple would not be demolished until a court resolution is reached. The next court hearing is set for Jan 11.

But he dispelled rumours that the state may step in to take over the land on the temple's behalf.

Mr Amirudin said in a statement that the state "ruled out acquiring the land as it will incur huge financial implications to the taxpayers' money and set a bad precedent for future cases".

 
 
 
 

Malaysia's Attorney-General Tommy Thomas has also offered to mediate the dispute between both parties - the developer and the temple management. The century-old temple sits atop land owned by a real-estate company seeking to develop the area.

In a briefing to Parliament yesterday, Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said police detained One City's "in-house lawyer" who was suspected of having paid thugs to spark the attack on Monday.

A group of around 50 men broke into the temple grounds armed with weapons, calling for immediate eviction.

"Police investigation found that a group of Malay men trespassing into temple grounds had acted on the orders of several individuals working for One City Development," said Tan Sri Muhyiddin.

One City, which is owned by MCT, denied involvement in the incident. MCT's controlling stakeholding company, Philippines' Ayala Land, issued another statement yesterday, describing reports that the company had hired thugs to forcibly relocate the temple as "absolutely inaccurate".

Ayala Land said the "personnel on site were in fact directed to provide logistical support and assist in the orderly relocation under police watch".

Police, meanwhile, have clarified that the suspect arrested is a company adviser, with the suspect's legal counsel stating that the person is a non-practising lawyer.

Crowds had ballooned to thousands at the temple vicinity as social media messages pleading for support went viral.

But the government has warned that messages shared should steer clear of provocative content that could jeopardise racial harmony.

"The government has promised to not obstruct news coverage and communications but this freedom should be used responsibly and not to add fuel to fire in situations that could disrupt racial harmony," said Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad in Parliament yesterday.

"The right and freedom to speak does not mean one can simply say anything that is provocative towards the sensitivities of others," he added.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2018, with the headline 'Courts leave Selangor temple row in limbo'. Print Edition | Subscribe