KUALA LUMPUR (Dec 26): Swift government action saved the day for the country in the aftermath of the riots at a temple in Selangor in November.
On the second day — Nov 27 — of the two-day fracas at the Seafield Sri Maha Mariamman Temple in USJ 25, Subang Jaya, Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad condemned the incident as a criminal and not a racial attack.
“There is no racial or religious issue involved here,“ he said, adding that it was very clear that the first attack on the temple when more than 100 armed thugs barged into the premises and went on the offensive against a small group of devotees guarding the place was done by criminals.
Dr Mahathir said allegations that it was a racial and religious riot were false even if it involved the relocation of the temple.
He also said that the police were instructed to take swift action to control and handle the situation immediately.
Two days after that, on Nov 29, Dr Mahathir tabled a statement on the issue in the Dewan Rakyat, stressing that the government will ensure that no one makes a mockery of national harmony and peace.
He said the government will not tolerate this and warned that action will be taken according to the law to ensure that it does not happen again.
“If anyone violates the laws for their own interests, this government, which upholds the principle of the rule of law, will act in accordance with the law,” he said in the House.
Dr Mahathir reiterated that the incident was not racial or religious in nature but a criminal act which should not be given any room to ruin the inter-racial relations in the country, and warned that the government will not hesitate to take firm action against any provocative attempt as well as against those who try to challenge the country’s laws.
“The government has pledged not to impose any barriers to news reporting and communication but this freedom must be used with full responsibility and not to exploit circumstances that may lead to inter-racial breakups and disharmony.
“This is also not the time to point fingers at anyone. The police have been given the responsibility to maintain peace and conduct investigations. The offenders will face the appropriate legal action,” he said.
Dr Mahathir urged all the people to stay calm and avoid getting involved in activities that can be the basis for instigation and sedition.
The riots, early on Nov 26 and 27 near the temple, resulted in a firefighter being seriously injured after he was allegedly assaulted, several other people also hurt, 23 cars torched and public and private property damaged.
The firefighter, Muhammad Adib Mohd Kassim, 24, succumbed to his injuries on Dec 17 after being on life support at the National Heart Institute (IJN).
The police have arrested more than 100 people to assist in the investigation into the riots.
The riots erupted allegedly from a dispute between parties for and against the proposed relocation of the temple as per a consent judgment.
Under the consent judgment of March 11, 2014, at the Shah Alam High Court, four parties agreed to the relocation of the temple and to return the present temple site vacant to the owner, One City Development Sdn Bhd.
The four parties are the state government, One City Development and two individuals claiming to be the temple administrators.
In the consent judgment, One City Development agreed to deposit RM1.5 million with the temple. The state government handed over a 0.4-hectare piece of land, located about three kilometres away, for the relocation of the temple.
Following the riots, on Dec 14, Attorney-General Tommy Thomas announced that all the parties in the dispute involving the house of worship can reach an amicable solution in the coming months.
He said lawyers representing the parties had a useful and productive meeting at his office and are confident that an agreement can be reached which would provide a fair and equitable solution to the protracted problem arising from the diverse and competing interests of these parties.
In a statement, Thomas said: “The comprehensive settlement that they have in mind, which receives my support, contemplates the following steps:
1. Subject to terms to be agreed upon, One City Development Sdn Bhd will transfer the one-acre plot of land on which the temple is located to a trust to be administered by the High Court.
2. The Attorney-General, in the exercise of his powers as guardian of the public interest with regard to charitable trusts, will apply to the High Court, pursuant to Section 9 of the Government Proceedings Act 1956, for orders to constitute the trust and the appointment of trustees to manage the trust and the temple.
3. The High Court will be invited to appoint a Receiver, who will be a person of repute, standing and integrity acceptable to all the disputants, who as an officer of the Court will have control and direction over the trustees of the temple, and subject to Court supervision.
4. At the appropriate time, the High Court will be invited to transfer the ownership of the land on which the temple is situated to the trustees.
5. In order to ensure impartiality and neutrality amongst the various groups in the temple, the Attorney-General hopes to be represented in all the applications before the High Court.
“In the spirit of consensus, and a give-and-take approach by all the parties concerned, an amicable resolution of all the matters in dispute can be achieved in the coming months,” Thomas said.