Malaysia

Stripping Singaporean of PR for surau row is rash, overkill by Zahid, say lawyers

Lawyers have said that Putrajaya has “prematurely punished” a Singaporean operating a resort in Johor with its decision to strip him of his permanent resident (PR) status. The Singaporean is in trouble for allowing a group of Buddhists to meditate at the resort's surau (YouTube pic above).

They said although Home Minister Datuk Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has the power to revoke the man's PR status, he should have given him a chance to explain himself.

Ahmad Zahid said the revocation was done in accordance with provisions of the law as the resort operator was "insensitive to Muslims and Islam".

He said the operator has been informed.

One lawyer, Amer Hamzah Arshad, felt the action was perhaps rash.

"This was an isolated incident and the act was not a threat to national security and public order," he said.

Amer said it appeared that Zahid succumbed to pressure from certain quarters and made the decision to appease them.

DAP chairman Karpal Singh, a lawyer as well, said what had transpired was insufficient to constitute grounds to deprive the Singaporean of his PR status.

"The authorities should have written to him and issued a showcause. He has been prematurely punished," he said.

Karpal said the operator has a legitimate expectation to be heard and has much to lose because of the decision.

Lawyers for Liberty adviser Eric Paulsen said the minister's reaction was “overkill” and that the man was still innocent until proven guilty.

"It is not known whether the public prosecutor will frame charges against him. It is for the court to decide his guilt or innocence," Paulsen said, adding that he viewed the action as punishment through the backdoor.

He said it has certainly made life difficult for the operator and his employees.

“This decision has a serious repercussion in terms of economic interests, investments, tourism and how the world sees Malaysia.

“I urge the authorities to not overreact and act emotionally, and to look through the rules and regulation to provide justice,” he said.

Lawyer Edmund Bon said the operator could appeal to the minister to reinstate his PR. "Failing which he could file an action against the minister and the government," he said.

The operator had earlier defended his action, saying that he did not think allowing believers of other religions to use the surau was wrong.

He was arrested last week after a 63-second video – "Chinese Buddhists pray in surau: surau becomes temple" – depicting a Buddhist group using the surau at the resort for meditation was uploaded on YouTube on August 10.

The 45-year-old operator was arrested and remanded for four days. He was set free yesterday.

His decision to allow Buddhists to use the surau reportedly caused a furore among the fishing community in Sedili Besar, Kota Tinggi, after a resort visitor who wanted to perform his Asar prayers last Saturday discovered it.  – August 17, 2013.

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