KUCHING: The Gempuru Besai Sarawak, which represents about 6,000 Iban-speaking congregations statewide, is urging the Federal Cabinet to immediately order the release of the Bahasa Malaysia and Iban Bibles seized by the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) from the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM).
It also wants an assurance that Iban-language Bibles and Christian teaching materials remain free of any interference from state agencies.
“This is the guarantee that was promised to our forefathers at the inception of Malaysia,” its chairman Pastor Greman Ujang said in a statement yesterday.
He said Gempuru Besai Sarawak was “deeply disturbed and disappointed” by the Jais raid and seizure of more than 300 Bibles as well as the arrest and questioning of BSM president Lee Min Choon and manager Sinclair Wong.
“The raid is a clear breach of the promises contained in the Federal Cabinet’s 10-point solution and the country’s constitutional guarantee of religious freedom.
“It also nullifies the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak’s verbal assurance that the Court of Appeal decision (in TheHerald case) would not apply to Christians from Sabah and Sarawak,” he said.
Greman said BSM was an important organisation to the Sarawak Iban-speaking church as it held exclusive rights to import and print the Alkitab (Bahasa Malaysia Bible) and the Bup Kudus (Iban Bible).
“BSM is the main source of Bibles to our community who are largely Bahasa Malaysia and Iban-speaking. We are alarmed that Jais has been vested with the authority to seize these Bibles which are meant for bumiputra Christians in Sarawak.
“We consider the seizure of our Alkitab and Bup Kudus a serious and intolerable infringement of our constitutionally-guaranteed right to practise, preach and propagate our faith,” Greman said.
He further noted that there appeared to be no prospect of the seized Bibles being returned.
“If one copy had been taken, it would have been understood to be for inspection. But seizing multiple copies is a clear attempt to restrict the Iban-speaking Christians from accessing the Bible in our own language.
“Such an illegal and high-handed act directly infringes our Iban people’s continued right to practise, preach and propagate Christianity to our community.”
Greman said the Iban Christian community was gravely concerned that Najib, a signatory to the 10-point solution, had kept “a grim silence” over the infringement of Iban Christians’ right to religious freedom.
He said Gempuru Besai Sarawak was also concerned by the intimidation tactics of certain non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to protest outside or near places of worship, thereby causing fear to thousands of ordinary Iban Christians working or studying in Peninsular Malaysia.
“We fear for our people and our children’s physical and legal safety and are anxious that they will be persecuted and prosecuted for practising, preaching and propagating their faith .
“We thank God for fair-minded Muslims like Datin Paduka Marina Mahathir and her friends who came out courageously to stand alongside our children and brethren in the faith at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Klang, Selangor,” he said.
He also said Gempuru Besai Sarawak stood firmly with The Herald editor Fr Lawrence Andrew, who is being investigated for sedition on the use of the word “Allah”.
“We shall continue to address our God as Allah because we have done so for hundreds of years and there is no other form that has ever been used by Iban-speaking Christians to correctly describe the God of the Bible,” he added.