The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Steven N Thiru with the Orang Asli Laut of Kuala Masai. Photo courtesy of

A MALAYSIAN COURT awarded damages to the Orang Asli Laut of Kuala Masai, Johor, after ruling that the authorities unlawfully demolished their Christian chapel.

Ruling in favour of the plaintiffs, Orang Asli residents, Khalip Bachik and Kelah bin Lah, High Court Judge Zakiah Kassim said the defendants trespassed onto the land and had no right to tear down the chapel.

The Orang Asli had levelled their challenge against the Johor Lands and Mines director, the Johor Bahru City Council and the Orang Asli affairs department (JHEOA).

The JHEOA and Johor Bahru Land Administrator had previously rejected the community’s application to build a chapel, stating that they had no right to do so as the land belonged to the government.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer, Steven N Thiru, said it is still uncertain whether the defendants will appeal the decision.

The amount of damages awarded are still to be assessed. The chapel had took three months to build and cost RM40,000 (S$17,000).

The plaintiffs, who are of Orang Asli Laut descent and members of the Orang Asli Christian congregation, were originally residents of Kampung Orang Asli Stulang Laut.

They received a directive to move to Kampung Orang Asli Kuala Masai from the Johor Bahru City Council in 1993 on the grounds that their original land was to be developed.

According to Khalip and Kelah, the JHEOA director general had given them as assurance that they could build a place of worship at the new settlement, and had done so upon relocation in 2003.

When the demolition occurred, the state failed to show any court order or proof that the chapel was sitting on state land.

The members of the small tribe in southern Johor state known as the Straits People took the case to court after authorities tore down their new chapel just 10 days before Christmas in 2005 on grounds that it was built on state land.

“This a very complex problem,” Father Lawrence Andrew, Editor of Malaysia’s Catholic weekly, Herald, told Vatican Radio. “The government has re-written history. They are trying to say that this land – from the very beginning – has been populated by Muslims. Which, of course, today more and more people are beginning to see through historical artefacts and so on this is not true.”

Father Andrew says a village had been found in the south of the country that dates back to some 2,000 years ago. It appeared to have been a Buddhist kingdom – but the government buried the village.

Eight out of the 20 families living in Kampung Orang Asli Kuai Masai are of the Christian faith /

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