GEORGE TOWN, Oct 7 — Penang church pastors refuted today allegations in Utusan Malaysia that Lim Guan Eng had engaged them in political talk during a recent dialogue session, the latest black mark against the Umno daily in its reporting of the state chief minister.
The DAP secretary-general has been under fire by Umno leaders and Utusan Malaysia columnist Awang Selamat for allegedly telling Christians to stand up to injustice.
“There were no political speeches made during that luncheon dialogue session between the state government and us,” national co-ordinator of the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship Pastor Sam Surendran told a press conference here this evening.
“I was present at the lunch dialogue session and all the pastors here also attended the session and we are refuting any claims that the chief minister had delivered any politicial speeches on that day,” he added.
The Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia had claimed Lim delivered a political speech at a church to garner votes for the upcoming elections. The news report had also quoted the Bishop of Lutheran Evangelical Church Rev Dr Solomon Rajah and National Church Council president Rev Dr Thomas Philips allegedly criticising Lim for using churches as a place to win votes.
Surendran said the dialogue session took place in Caring Society Complex and not in a church as reported.
“This is a dialogue session between the state government and the Penang churches, held on a neutral ground,” he said.
He said Lim did not say anything much except to listen to the grievances raised by the churches and answering the grievances.
“We were all there so we know what went on during that dialogue session and we can vouch that there was nothing political throughout the whole session,” he said.
The nine other pastors who attended the dialogue session were also present at the press conference.
Surendran said the issues discussed during the dialogue session involved problems faced by the churches such as land issues, burial ground and assessment of churches.
“This is an annual dialogue session where we get to meet with the state government so that we could voice out our concerns and issues,” he said.
“Before this, we have never had this opportunity to meet with the head of state to air our grievances and we feel this is a good move by the state government to make this an annual event,” he said.
The pastor also said other state governments should emulate the Penang state government to hold annual dialogue sessions with churches so that the churches could air their problems and grievances.
Lim, who had called the press conference, said both Rajah and Philips have denied the statements published by Utusan Malaysia and attributed to them.
“Dr Solomon had contacted me through DAP MPs that his comments were twisted while Dr Thomas has said that he was not asked to comment on the dialogue session at all and that he had no idea he was commenting on me or Penang state government,” Lim said.
Surendran also said both the senior Christian priests did not attend the dialogue session.
The dialogue session was held on Friday afternoon between the state government and the pastors of Penang churches to discuss any issues the churches had.