Coming so soon after Prime Minister Najib Razak assured Christians of moderation, the Registry of Society (ROS) is now threatening to crack down on the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), merely on suspicions of acts “prejudicial to public peace, welfare, good order or morality in Malaysia”.

According to those familiar with the matter, ROS in an email notice told BSM that a ROS team would be at its office, between 1pm and 3pm tomorrow, but it did not state just what the BSM has done  to bring about the call at its office.

BSM was only told to get its membership roll, minutes of meetings and accounts ready for inspection by ROS.

The BSM executive council is alarmed that ROS would resort to such high-handedness and is seeking legal advice. Its president, former Christian Federation of Malaysia chairperson and Anglican Bishop of West Malaysia, Rev Ng Moon Hing (photo), is out of town and could not be contacted for comments.

For good measure, the ROS is also roping some other societies for similar inspections, citing clause 63 of the Societies Act 1966 as grounds for its action.

This clause states that the registrar, if he has reason to believe that any society is carrying out activities in contravention of the law, may enter into any registered society and may search such places and inspect all books, accounts, minutes of meetings and other documents kept by the society.

Clause 64 further states that if the registrar has reason to believe that any registered society is being used for purposes prejudicial to public peace, welfare, good order or morality in Malaysia, the ROS may enter, with or without assistance and using force for that purpose, if necessary, into any place so suspected.

Further, the ROS may also seize and detain any books, accounts, writings, lists of members, banners, seals, insignia, arms or other articles belonging to the registered society which ROS has reason to believe may be required in respect of further proceedings.

The registrar of ROS and his deputies are appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and have immense powers. No one can take them to court.

Provisions of Societies Act are very wide

The provisions of the Societies Act 1966 are so wide that the registrar can act merely on suspicions and he need not even have to say what his suspicions may be. If need be, he can even use violence to gain entry for his purpose!

The powers of the ROS are legendary. In the recent leadership dispute in the MIC, a component of the ruling coalition, the registrar can even determine who is qualified to be the acting MIC president.

In his speech at the launch of the Christians for Peace and Harmony (CPHM) movement earlier this month, Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak said he is “an advocate of wasatiyyah or moderation in everything we do. All religions preach moderation, but it is extremism that creates conflict, rather than unifies the multicultural society of the country”.

The latest move by the ROS against the Bible Society of Malaysia comes after the Home Ministry announced its intention to put in place new curbs on the Alkitab, the Malay language Bible, recently.

This comes in the form of the draft Standard Operating Procedures (SOP), which was done without consultation of the bumiputera Christians of Sabah and Sarawak, nor with the Orang Asli Christians, who are the main users of the Alkitab.

Under the proposed SOP, the import and use of the Alkitab is to be placed under the jurisdiction of the Quranic Text Division of the Home Ministry and subject to the provisions of the Printing of Quranic Text Act 1986, which is solely meant for Muslims.

The draft SOP is oppressive and it overrides the 10-point solution for the usage of the Alkitab that was introduced by Najib himself in 2011.

It looks like Najib needs to explain to Home Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is in charge of the ROS, the Quranic Text Division and the SOP, what exactly he means by wasatiyyah in the hope that moderation may prevail over extremism in Putrajaya.

Meanwhile, let us all hope that in the spirit of Ramadan, the suspicions of the ROS against the Bible Society of Malaysia are unfounded and the inspection may turn out to be just a routine one.

Malaysiakini has attempted to contact the Selangor and Kuala Lumpur ROS office for details but none have been forthcoming. A spokesperson for the ROS headquarters in Putrajaya said they were unaware of the matter.

BOB TEOH, a former secretary-general of the Confederation of Asean Journalists, is a contributor to Malaysiakini.