(Corrected at 1:55pm, 1 April 2011)
Patience wearing thin…
“Each time, tedious steps had to be taken to secure their release. It would appear as if the authorities are waging a continuous, surreptitious and systematic programme against Christians in Malaysia to deny them access to the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia. Malaysian Christians, many of whom have grown up with Bahasa Malaysia as their principal medium of communication as a result of the government’s education policies, must have access to Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia in order to read, comprehend and practise their faith.”
Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM) chairperson Bishop Ng Moon Hing in a 10 March 2011 press statement. The CFM, an umbrella body for different Christian churches and organisations, revealed that 30,000 copies of Perjanjian Baru, Mazmur dan Amsal or the New Testament, Psalms and Proverbs were being withheld at Kuching Port in Sarawak. This was despite the Barisan Nasioanal (BN) government’s assurance that the Malay-language Bible would be freely available, at least in Sabah and Sarawak.
CFM said that since March 2009, all attempts to import the Malay-language Bible, known as the Alkitab, whether through Port Klang or Kuching Port, have been thwarted. It said a previous consignment of 5,000 Alkitab copies, imported in March 2009, was still being held by the Home Ministry in Port Klang. Ng said despite raising the matter with the prime minister, who reportedly agreed to release the copies, the relevant authorities did nothing to heed the prime minister’s decision. (Source:Group: PM consented to BM Bibles, Malaysiakini, 10 March 2011)
“Enough is enough. We have had our fill of the hypocritical gap between assurances of our freedom of religion and the reality of their restriction.”
Bishop Dr Paul Tan Chee Ing, speaking as the titular head of the Malacca-Johor diocese in condemning the impoundment of the bibles. Tan, who is also the president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Malaysia, said the government’s action was a “flagrant example of the hypocrisy of people who treat the 1Malaysia concept as a vote-winning slogan rather than as a platform on which to unify the people.” (Source: Catholic bishop rails against impoundment of Bibles, Malaysiakini, 14 March 2011)
“No religious community will ever want to suffer the indignity of having its sacred scriptures banned and prohibited as though it is some seditious material or a contraband product considered immoral.”
“That this has [been] done repeatedly over so many years is an affront and insult to the religious community concerned and raises very serious questions about the status of religious freedom and respect for other religions in our country.”
PKR exco member Elizabeth Wong in calling, on behalf of her party, for the immediate release of the holy books and an assurance that the incident would not recur. At the end of 2010, the Home Ministry also seized 10,000 copies of the Bible but eventually released them after protests from Christian leaders. (Source: Zaid: Why let opposition capitalise on Bible issue?, Malaysiakini, 12 March 2011)
“As the Bible is the holy book of the Christians, due respect should be given to it by consulting the relevant Christian representative organs before any external text is inserted into the Bibles.”
Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), which imported the bibles, in revealing that the 5,000 Malay-language bibles that have been held back at Port Klang for two years have been stamped with a Home Ministry notice without the importer’s consent. According to the society, the ministry had agreed in a 22 Dec 2005 letter that the cross and the words “Penerbitan Kristian” would be engraved onto the bible’s cover by Christians themselves.
Instead, the society said the ministry printed spaces for serial numbers into the bibles and the words “Al Kitab Berita Baik ini untuk kegunaan penganut agama Kristian sahaja”. An urgent letter has been faxed to the ministry urging for the terms of the bibles’ release to be negotiated so as not to “violate the dignity of the holy books”. Meanwhile, church leaders have advised their consignee not to collect the 30,000 bibles being held in Kuching because they want further clarification over the ministry’s two conditions for the bibles’ release. (Source: BM Bibles ‘defaced’, decry importers, Malaysiakini, 16 March 2011)
“The Christian community in Malaysia has always acted in good faith and with great patience to find amicable solutions without compromising our fundamental beliefs. But that good faith has not been reciprocated by the Government. It is the Government that has moved the ‘goal posts’ over the years through a systematic imposition of unreasonable conditions and restrictions.
“We have never agreed to any wording to be endorsed on Bibles to say that it is only for Christians. The 1982 order issued under the Internal Security Act 1960 did not state that any form of words had to be endorsed on any copy of the Bible in Bahasa Malaysia.
“The latest letter from the Ministry of Home Affairs dated 15 March 2011 is therefore a set of new conditions imposed on the release of the impounded Bibles which is wholly unacceptable to us. We will never accede to any desecration of the Bible since the Word of God to us is sacred.”
CFM’s Bishop Ng in expressing the Christian community’s deep hurt at the government’s desecration of the Bible. CFM also rejected the government’s claim that the Malay-language bible was a threat to national interest and security, and hence should be treated as a subversive publication. He confirmed that the consignee would not collect the bibles that had been stamped by the ministry. (Source: CFM Media Statement – Holy Scriptures Desecrated, 17 March 2011)
“KDN must remove the two degrading conditions immediately and apologise to Christians and all Malaysians for such seditious actions which clearly have incited distress and disharmony among God-fearing Malaysians irrespective of creed.”
MCA central committee and presidential council member Loh Seng Kok in a 17 March 2011 statement decrying the Home Ministry’s two conditions as “totally unreasonable”. He added that the ministry’s “high-handedness” betrayed the goodwill that was the aim of the bibles’ release. In a harsh rebuke, the MCA said the bureaucrats who violated the Alkitab suffer from the four syndromes which Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak warned Barisan Nasional about — “delusion, amnesia, inertia and arrogance”. Other political leaders have also called for the government to release the bibles without condition. (Source: KDN Must Not Religious Profile Al-Kitab As High Risk Terrorist Object, Malaysian Mirror, 17 March 2011)
BN government contradicts itself…
“It is not a ministerial regulation, but the administration is required to adhere to cabinet decisions.”
“We also cannot take any action (to release them) because our court case with the Catholic publication Herald is still pending. So any action will mean sub judice (contempt of court). We will just have to wait for the decision of the Court of Appeal.”
The Home Ministry’s Publications Control and Quranic Text Division secretary Zaitun Ab Samad in explaining that the cabinet did not make a decision nor did it give permission to the ministry to release the 5,000 copies of the Alkitab held in Port Klang. She reiterated that it was the cabinet who in May 1986 issued a directive banning non-Muslims from using the terms “Allah“, “Solat”, “Kiblat” and “Kaabah”.
She said the government had also sent several notices to the importer to collect the 5,000 copies but to no avail. She added that the Customs Department could just destroy the bibles “but we also want to give them chance lah”.
(Corrected) In December 2009, the High Court, in a landmark ruling, lifted the government’s ban against the Catholic church from using “Allah” in its weekly publication, Herald. However, the government filed an appeal against the ruling in January 2010 and the case remains pending in court. (Source: Bible ban based on 1986 cabinet decision, Malaysiakini, 11 March 2011)
“The appeal has yet to be heard by the court to resolve the bigger issue of content, one way or the other.”
Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein in explaining why the bibles were being withheld. Hishammuddin said the government was seeking the attorney-general’s advice on the matter because of the government’s pending appeal against the High Court ruling to lift the ban over the use of “Allah’ by the Catholic Herald. Hishammuddin stressed that the ministry would always act based on the law. (Source: Hisham: Issue of impounded Bibles being resolved amicably, The Star, 14 March 2011)
“… the government has decided to apply the 1982 gazette and release the Bibles accordingly.”
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Idris Jala in a 16 March 2011 statement that announced the government’s decision to release the imported bibles that were being held at Port Klang and Kuching Port. He said the government’s about-turn decision was consistent with the 1982 gazette under the Internal Security Act which allowed limited and controlled importation and circulation of Malay-language bibles which must be stamped “For Christians Only.” He noted that the Sarawak government had said it wanted the bibles released. Sarawak is facing an impending election in which the Barisan Nasional government is expected to face some challenge.
Idris, a Christian from Sarawak, added that the attorney-general confirmed that the bibles’ release would not prejudice the pending court appeal. He asserted that the government was committed to amicably resolving any inter-faith issue. (Source: Govt agrees to release impounded Malay Bibles, Bernama as quoted in MYSinChew.com, 16 March 2011)
“…we would be breaking the law if we do it now.”
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz in declaring that it was alright to immediately release the 30,000 Malay-language bibles in Kuching, but not so the bibles in Port Klang. The de facto law minister said there was no enactment in Sarawak against the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims but there was in Selangor and the other states in the peninsula, except for Penang and the federal territories. These ten states enforce the Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non-Islamic Religions Enactment which prohibits either the verbal or printed use of “Allah” by non-Muslims.
However, Nazri did not discount the possibility that the bibles in Port Klang could be handed over if they were only “in transit” to areas where they were not deemed illegal. Nazri admitted that the Sarawak authorities should not have withheld the 30,000 copies of the Malay-language bibles, adding that he too was in the dark over their actions since Sarawak did not have the same enactment. (Source: Despite Cabinet order, Nazri says Klang BM bibles subjudice, Malaysian Insider, 16 March 2011)
“In Sarawak, we have never faced such controversies before. In this state, we have mosques and churches built side by side. In our coffee shops, we have Chinese and Malay food sellers operating next to each other. We don’t have any problem with race or religion.”
Sarawak Deputy Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr George Chan, who is also SUPP president, said the state government could not understand the rationale behind the treatment of the Bible and why the Bahasa Malaysia version could not be brought into the country. Other political leaders from MCA, Gerakan, PPP, DAP, PKR and Kita also called on the government to release the bibles. (Source: Home Ministry urged to release Bibles, The Star, 13 March 2011)
“This is hypocritical of us. We want everybody to use the common language of Bahasa Malaysia but are not willing to allow it when it comes to practising one’s religion.”
Kita president Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, adding that Muslims should “not appear to be so weak in our own faith that we cannot even let people who practise other religions do so in their own language.” He said that by prolonging the issue over “Allah”, the government was providing the Opposition with ammunition when the issue could be settled easily. “Isn’t this already guaranteed in our constitution?” the former Umno and PKR member asked. (Source: Zaid: Why let opposition capitalise on Bible issue?, Malaysiakini, 12 March 2011)
“Every Malaysian has the right to practise his religion as guaranteed and enshrined in the Federal Constitution. In Sabah and Sarawak, the use of Bahasa Malaysia in the practice of Christianity has long been a common tradition.”
MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek who also suggested that the Malay-language bibles be printed locally by Home Ministry-sanctioned printing houses instead of being imported from Indonesia. Later, in welcoming the government’s decision to release the bibles, he pointed out that since Bahasa Malaysia was a medium of instruction, more Christians would be using Malay to read the Bible. (Source: Better if Bibles in Bahasa are produced here under strict control, says MCA chief, The Star, 12 March 2011)
“Why is it so difficult to claim back the bibles? Why does the matter now have to be referred to the Attorney-General? They (the Government) are just throwing the ball around.”
DAP Member of Parliament Tony Pua revealing in Parliament that Hishammuddin’s position was inconsistent. Pua said that in a written reply to the Dewan Rakyat on 7 June 2010, Hishammuddin had already declared that the bibles’ importers were notified that the holy books would be released to them. (Source: Dompok optimistic Najib will find solution to Bible row, The Star, 15 March 2011)
Apparently, a trivial matter to the Home Minister…
“(They were stamped) based on amalan (the standard practice) before…(like) even during (former premiers) Dr Mahathir (Mohamad) and Pak Lah’s (Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s) time. There was no intention to deface the Bible… we will not entertain this kind of talk.”
“It is not a real big issue to me… we have engaged (BSM) but you can only engage with people who want to engage, and resolve issues with people who want them to be resolved.”
Hishammuddin, at a press conference in Parliament on 17 March 2011. He claimed the issue was revived in time for the Sarawak elections, similar to during the Sibu by-election when it was alleged that bibles had been destroyed. (Source: Home minister defends stamp on Al-Kitab, Malaysiakini, 17 March 2011)