The personnel of a funeral service company engaged by the Johor state government to relocate a Chinese cemetery at Pengerang were surrounded by local residents who forced them to kneel and apologise to the ‘ancestors' for 'tampering' with the tombstones.
The relocation, apparently at the state government's direction, is to make way for the construction of the controversial Petronas Refinery and Petrochemical Integrated Development (Rapid) project.
It includes a petrochemical complex which was originally meant to be built in Taiwan but the government there rejected the project.
The highly-charged incident happened yesterday afternoon at Pengerang when several residents found four strangers entering one of the village's cemeteries.
According to Hong Thian Hwa, vice-chief of the ad hoc anti-Rapid committee, when confronted by the residents, the strangers admitted that they were personnel from a funeral service company.
They came to the cemetery to make markings on the tombstones for relocation purposes using stickers and oil palm fronds tied with red cloth.
Soon some 300 residents came to the spot, surrounding the four strangers and stopped them from leaving the village.
They were forced to hand over their identity cards and delete all content in their digital cameras.
Under the watchful eyes of residents, they also removed all oil palm fronds and stickers from some 300 tombstones.
No ill intentions
At around 4pm, Reliable Memorial Service Bhd chairperson Lee Say Peng arrived at the scene and explained that his staff had no ill intentions but still failed to defuse the residents' anger.
"We were frustrated with their action of trespassing into the cemetery without our consent. Their action was also insensitive to Chinese taboos and disrespected our culture," said Hong.
Even the request of Pengerang deputy police station head Mohammad Nasir to bring Lee and his staff back to the police station was not accepted by the angry residents.
The stalemate was resolved after a two-hour negotiation when Lee and his staff agreed to kneel down in front of one of the tombstones and the Tua Pek Kong altar to apologise to the ancestors and gods, said Hong.
Hong said Lee also agreed to publish a public apology to all the residents in newspapers within four days.
He stressed that the residents are against the relocation of the cemeteries and will continue to protect their homes.
Lee later told Chinese daily Oriental Daily News that he had performed prayers to the ancestors and gods at the request of the residents instead of apologising.
He explained that the company was instructed by the state government with a written notice to count the number of graves in the five Chinese cemeteries of that area that needed to be relocated within three days.
He revealed that an official letter from the Kluang district office to close the cemeteries will be sent to the residents soon.
Today he will meet with the district office to discuss the residents' request for his company to make a public apology.