A Malaysian lawyer was among 30 people arrested and detained on charges of rioting in connection with violence that injured eight and caused damage to public property at a Hindu temple outside Kuala Lumpur two days ago, authorities said Wednesday.
Mazlan Mansor, the police chief of Selangor state, said one of the suspects arrested was an attorney appointed by One City Development to handle the relocation process of the Sri Maha Mariamman temple in Subang Jaya township on the outskirts of the capital.
“It was only one lawyer arrested and not two,” Mazlan told reporters. “The other was his friend.”
Violence erupted at the temple Monday after a group of men attacked devotees and destroyed more than a dozen vehicles. Authorities described the incident as an escalation of a dispute over the relocation of the house of worship and not race-related.
Mazlan made the statement hours after Home Minister Muhyiddin Yassin alleged during a news conference that the detained lawyer had hired a group of Malays to encroach into the temple.
Muhyiddin, citing the police investigation, said about 50 Malays each received payment of between 150 ringgit (U.S. $36) and 300 ringgit (U.S. $71) to “take over and guard the temple.”
“If these careless acts did not take place, I think the incident would not have occurred,” Muhyiddin told reporters in the administrative capital Putrajaya.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Wednesday visited a firefighter who suffered injuries during the rioting.
Mahathir told reporters that police will conduct a thorough investigation to find the suspect who injured to firefighter. He also criticized the lawyer’s alleged decision to employ the group of men, including those with permanent-resident status, to invade the temple grounds, according to the state-run news agency Bernama.
“The act of hiring foreigners to guard the Hindu temple was also wrong,” Mahathir was quoted as telling reporters at the National Heart Institute in Kuala Lumpur. “These people are foreigners and do not understand the Malaysian culture.”
Authorities said more arrests would take place as investigators widen their search for suspects.
Mazlan said the remand order for the lawyer and his friend expired Wednesday, but has since been extended to Saturday.
About 61 percent of the 32.4 million Malaysia are Muslims while 1.6 million are Hindus.
Despite its multicultural make-up and civil liberties that are enshrined in the country’s federal constitution, Malaysia has experienced racial violence, including rioting in the aftermath of the 1969 general election.