The staff at the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) were all Christians. They had left better career propsects to work at BSM as part of their religious journey to serve God and the Christian community. Their work place was quiet and devoid of excitement. Perfect for a group of mild mannered folks who looked forward each day to the handful of Christian customers who arrived as if on a pilgrimage to look for books. As the customers browsed through the shelves, they would pick out something with great anticipation, clutch it to their chest and take it to the counter for payment. These were no mere books. These were life. These were spiritual refreshment for the journey through the wilderness.
At 1.45 pm on January 2, 2014, the threat of physical force being used against the staff persuaded me that I must yield to the insistent demands of JAIS to enter our premises. I told the leader of the group that I will let them in but not the whole group. I told him to select just a few people and I will let them in to check. He agreed and said that only five people will come in and the rest will stay outside. All of a sudden, the anger and hostility seemed to evaporate. This is what it means to surrender and this is what it means to overcome.
I told Sinclair to let them in. The men walked into our storeroom and went immediately to the tables and shelves where the books were. They asked no questions. No even a “May I?” Each man at one spot in our storeroom rummaging through boxes and piles of books. It was as if each man knew what to do. Of course, it must have been planned and at that moment we were watching its execution.
I stepped out of that room into our bookshop and made a few calls. One call was to the chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM). I said to him, “We are being raided by JAIS. Pass the word around. We don’t know who’s next.” I did not ask help as I was sure no one in the Christian community had ever encountered anything like this before to be in a position to help. I had been legal advisor for CFM and other Christian organisations years ago. I was used to helping Christians who faced problems with the authorities. Now I am on my own. I also sent text messages to my lawyer colleagues and other friends to alert the press.
Then, I returned to the storeroom and started to take some pictures with my mobile phone. There was one man seated at a table with a pile of our bibles in front of him making a list in a form. Another 2 men were beside him holding our books. Sinclair was next to them. One of them was shouting questions at Sinclair who had problems answering because the man spoke in Malay and Sinclair had trouble trying to express himself in Malay. I took a picture of them.
One man in green batik (1st from left in image above) saw me taking the picture pointed at me and shouted, “You ambil gambar, kah? Tak boleh ambil gambar! Bagi saya phone!” (Are you taking pictures? Cannot take pictures! Give me your phone!)
He then walked towards me with his outstretched hand to take my phone away. I sucked in my gut and pulled myself as erect as possible to make me seem taller so that I could tower over him. I took one step towards him and said, “Kenapa tak boleh ambil gambar? Ini office saya. Saya ada hak ambil gambar sesiapa yang masuk office saya” (Why can’t take pictures. This is my office. I have a right to take pictures of anyone who enters my office).
At that moment, the man in blue (2nd from left in image above) who seemed to be the leader walked up between us and said to the other guy “Tak apa” (It’s all right). That seemed to pacify the other guy who then walked back to where Sinclair was and resumed his shouting at Sinclair. I then turned to the leader and told him, “Please ask your friend to behave. We are all Malaysians. We are not enemies. If he has any questions, please tell him to ask politely and we will answer him.”
The leader said “Okay, okay” and then went to speak to his aggressive colleague. Then he came over to me with a copy of the Al-Kitab in his hand. He opened the bible to the title page. He pointed to the words “Bible Society of Malaysia” at the bottom of the page and asked me if we are the Bible Society. I said we are. He then asked if we published the bible, I said yes. He then walked away.
A few minutes later, the men started to load some boxes of bibles onto a cart and took it outside to load into a van. The leader pointed at me and said “You, Lee” and then pointing at Sinclair, “You, Wong, I arrest you. You must come with me to the police station.”
(Next: The Arrest)