COMMENT With the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) raid and confiscation of both Malay and Iban language bibles from the Bible Society of Malaysia remaining unresolved, yet another case of confiscation of Christian publications has come to light.
Church sources disclosed that some 200 copies of a Malay language church handbook and several copies of the Alkitab, the Malay language Bible, were seized on arrival at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal in Sepang a year ago.
The church concerned did not take action on the assurance that the authorities would resolved the matter amicably.
The publications were brought in July last year from Jakarta by a Rungus pastor from Sabah. The publications were meant for his bumiputera church in Kuala Lumpur comprising mainly of native Christians from Sabah and Sarawak working or studying in the Klang Valley.
The church handbook was meant for a conference in the later part of last year while theAlkitab were to be used by some church members.
It is understood that the pastor insisted that under the cabinet's 10-point solution such publications are permitted.
On the insistence of the pastor, the Alkitab were given back to him but not copies of the church handbook. The reason given was that they were prohibited publications although they did not specify what was prohibited.
Although the customs can seize such publications at points of entry into the country, the seizure order eventually has to be authorised by Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi himself or an authorised officer in accordance to the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984, failing which such seizures become illegal.
Jais vs BSM
Subsequently to this seizure, Jais raided and seized some 300 copies of the Alkitab and Bup Kudus, the Iban Bible, from the Bible Society of Malaysia in January this year.
Jais has refused to return the bibles despite the attorney-general saying Jais has no case against the Bible Society.
Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim tried to get Jais to return the bibles but was rebuffed by Jais as well as Selangor Islamic Council (Mais) on the basis that they are answerable to the Selangor sultan, not the menteri besar.
Mais went further and said it would seek a court order to dispose of the bibles, the usual way of which is by burning them. None knows where the seized bibles are.
Sources in the know of the case said the Home Ministry apparently passed the buck to the Department of National Unity and Integration in the Prime Minister's Department headed by Joseph Kurup, a Sabah minister.
There was a lot of meetings but nothing was resolved. When the pastor demanded for his church handbook to be returned, the National Unity Department apparently offered a bargain.
The handbooks would be returned provided the Bible Society do not demand for the seized bibles to be returned. The pastor refused because the two seizures are not related and that he cannot speak for the Bible Society.
He has not filed any court action for the return of his publications but has not precluded the possibility of taking such a recourse if the deadlock over the matter is not resolved soon.
Currently there are three cases before the courts over the usage of the word 'Allah' by non-Muslims. The Federal Court has finally dismissed the case brought by the Catholic weekly TheHerald in 2007 by not allowing it to appeal to the apex court to overturn the Court of Appeal decision which favoured the government.
The Federal Court did not deal with the reasons why the 'Allah' word is prohibited. It only ruled that the home minister had the power to prohibit The Herald from using the word in its Bahasa edition and that the minister had exercised his power correctly.
The other case is brought by the Sidang Injil Borneo Sabah (SIB) before the High Court in Kuala Lumpur over the seizure of their Bahasa Indonesia publications for religious education of their children. These were seized at the Sepang airport in 2007 on transit to Kota Kinabalu.
After years of delay, their application for leave was rejected on the basis of the Court of Appeal decision that the word 'Allah' is not integral to Christianity. But the Federal Court has subsequently ruled that this was only an obiter, an opinion, and not a judgment.
The third case regarding a Melanau Christian from Sarawak, Jill Ireland. She brought in eight audio CDs from Indonesia containing the word 'Allah' in their titles for her personal use.
They were seized from her on arrival at the Sepang airport in 2008. Parties have completed submission recently and judgment is set for July 21, 2014. The same judge who heard the SIB Sabah is also the judge in Jill Ireland's case.
BOB TEOH retired recently as a newspaper editor. He was National Union of Journalists general-secretary from 1984 to 86.