Orang Asli church sues for basic needs

Following the footsteps of the Temiar Orang Asli in Kelantan, another Orang Asli church - this time in Kuala Krau, Pahang - has gone to court against its own local and state governments.

The difference is however while the Temiar church was demolished, the Kuala Krau church has had its requests for water and power supplies falling on deaf ears.

Two Kuala Krau villagers - Wet Ket and his son Yaman Wet from Kampung Pasu - had their application filed at the Temerloh High Court today for a judicial review of the decision by the Temerloh land and district office to deny the supply of electricity and water to their church building.

Their suit - in which the Pahang government was named as second respondent - also seeks the court’s declaration and an order directing the local authority to supply the said amenities to the church building.

The Temerloh land and district office had, in a letter dated Apr 11, 2007, informed the plaintiffs of its decision not to provide water and electricity supply to the said building. The reasons for the decision, however, was only conveyed by the office in a letter dated Oct 8, 2007.

The grounds for the decision, said the land and district office, was that the land on which the church stands has not been reserved or gazetted as Orang Asli land.

The church itself was built without the permission of the local authority as stipulated by regulations, it said further.

The villagers, who are represented by lawyers Annou Xavier and Lee Swee Seng, stated in their affidavit that the Federal Constitution in Article 5 enshrined the right to life and liberty and, by implication, the amenities which are necessary to both.

As Article 11 of the Constitution, they stated further, provides for the right to practice one’s religion, the proper exercise of that right includes having a church with all the basic facilities expected of one.

The position of the Temerloh land and district office that the church should not be provided with water and electricity because it stands on un-gazetted or unreserved land was also untenable, said the villagers.

Asking for basic needs

They argue that they have lived on the land for generations. The family of Wet Ket and Yaman Wet, in particular, have been there since 1920.

Addressing the question why the villagers were only now filing their application given the time period stipulated by the laws to seek judicial review is 40 days, Xavier said while the decision - to deny the provision of water and electricity supply - was conveyed April last year, lawyers for the villagers only obtained the grounds for the decision six months later.

There are sufficient legal precedents for the villagers to have some confidence the application would be allowed, he said further.

“The Orang Asli are only asking for water supply and electricity, which are so basic to the needs of all human beings,” he told Malaysiakini.

Xavier also noted that the church had in September 2003 been demolished by personnel and workers of the Temerloh land and district office.

Following an appeal, however, the villagers received RM35,000 in 2004 as compensation from the office of the Prime Minister which was used to build their church anew.

Xavier said judicial commissioner Abdul Halim Aman set March 27 as the next hearing date.

In Gua Musang, Kelantan, Temiar Orang Asli from the village of Kampung Jias have filed a suit against the Gua Musang District Council and the state government over the demolition of their church.

The court has fixed May 26 for the hearing at Kota Baru High Court.

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