In my experiences in court, the examination of witnesses is a fascinating exercise. The goal is to arrive at the truth. However, truth can be subjective. The two parties in a case will have differing versions of what the truth is. Thus, the lawyer seeks to establish his client’s version of truth in his examination of witnesses. Each lawyer will have their own style in examining witnesses. The most popular is the aggressive and belligerent questioning of witnesses involving badgering and humiliation of the witness. I prefer a more subtle approach. But that is another story and I am not ready to reveal my trade secrets yet.
On the day of our arrest, the JAIS officers verbally requested us to come to see them at their office. They did not say for what. But it was obvious that they wanted to record statements from us. When we were released on bail, the police issued a bail bond which required us to attend at an unidentified court on 10 January. I had discussed this in an earlier post.
Section 13 of the Selangor Enactment says that an authorised officer making an investigation may by order in writing require the attendance of any person to have their statement recorded. Now, if I wished to be technical, I could point out that JAIS did not issue me an order in writing to attend at their office. So, technically I could refuse to attend. But what would be the point of that? If I did that, JAIS would merely issue me a letter and that would take care of the technical objection. So, sooner or later I would have to face them.
At the police station I told the JAIS officers that I will come to see them. In fact, we discussed the dates and 10 January was chosen by me. As far as I was concerned, I was not afraid of JAIS or what they could or would do to us. I and my society also had nothing to hide. On top of that, as a Bible Society we wished to be seen to be obeying the Bible by cooperating with the authorities. If the state authorities take the position that the bringing in of our Malay bible with the word Allah in it is an offence under the laws of Selangor, then we will face the consequences. God has appointed us to take the hit on behalf of the churches and this was a task that we gladly accepted.
Thus, on 10 January at 10.00 am, I went to JAIS’ office with Sinclair Wong, a BSM executive staff who was also arrested and requested to attend. Accompanying us was our bailor, Simon Wong, the General Secretary of BSM, and an officer from the office of Joseph Kurup, the Minister in the National Unity Department under the Prime Minister’s Department.
JAIS is a pampered child of the Selangor State Government. The grandeur and prestige of their offices is testimony of this. As we drove towards their premises, we could not see their building as there was an tall embankment that looked like a hill slope covered with trees and thick foliage along the frontage of their premises. They were situated on the north side of the roundabout in front of the State Mosque in Shah Alam. We drove through the security at the front gate. In the middle of a sprawling sculptured compound were three tall towers topped with gleaming domes. A pasar malam was taking shape in the car park. It was a Friday and many stalls were being set up to catch the business of JAIS staff during the long Friday lunch hour. It was then I realised how big the operation and manpower of JAIS are in order to fill 3 big buildings and to have their own Friday lunch time pasar.
After meeting the band of reporters awaiting our arrival, we spent another half hour scaling one tower after another to find out where we were supposed to go to. Finally, we were told to wait at one office in the middle tower. It appears to us that JAIS had not expected us to come. As a result, no one knew what we were there for and eventually when we were shown to the right office, we had to wait for an hour for the questioning team to be assembled and for the room to be set up with video recording equipment.
Finally, I was called into a medium size conference room with a circular table. There were three Malay gentlemen seated on one side of the table. They smiled at me and grunted out their names inaudibly as if they didn’t want me to catch it. One of them, a distinguished looking gentleman, appeared to be in charge. I asked him for his name and he said, “Malik.” No encik, no family name. One gentleman was recording what I said by hand. Another gentleman went in and out as directed by Malik to get this or that.
Malik said that they will record my statement and that it will also be videotaped. He then read out the caution found in the Criminal Procedure Code that police officers had to recite to witnesses before recording their statements, that is “ you are required to tell the truth … etc.”
Malik started by asking some details about me, my age, profession, am I married, what does my wife do, how many children I have, how old are they, are they working? Then he asked about my parents. All the time, Malik was very polite. Was this to disarm me with courtesy or was Malik just a nice guy?
Then Malik asked about the background of BSM. I told him that we are registered under the Registrar of Societies in 1985 and before that we were part of a joint Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei Bible Society. He asked about my position and I told him that I am the chairman. He asked if I am involved in the operations of BSM and I said no. We have staff to do that. I come in for board meetings once in three months and the staff report to us what they are doing. Malik then said he understood as he also sat on some boards. How nice.
Malik then asked why we have the Malay Bible. I explained that it is our function to supply bibles in all languages to churches in Malaysia. So, we have bibles in English, Mandarin, Tamil, East Malaysian dialects and Malay. I told him that we have over 2 million Christians in Malaysia and 60% or 1.2 million speak Bahasa Malaysia, the national language. They use the Malay Bible supplied by us.
Malik had one of our Malay bibles on the table in front of him. He then asked me if it was all right for him to touch and pick up the bible. I said yes, no problem, go ahead. He picked it up and turned to the first page and asked who is the publisher of this bible.
“ BSM, “ I answered.
“When was it published?”
“1995. It says so on the front page.”
“Were you the chairman then? “ asked Malik.
“No,” I answered, “I was not even a member of BSM then.”
“Where was the bible printed,” Malik asked.
“Indonesia,” I answered, “it says so on the front page.”
“How much does it cost to print one copy?”
“I don’t know,” I answered.
“How much do you sell it for?”
“I don’t know,” I answered again.
“RM25,” Malik said.
“Oh, you know about this,” I remarked.
Pulling out a piece of paper from his file and waving it, Malik said, “This is the receipt.”
“One of my officers went to your bookshop and bought this bible. Did you know about this?” Malik asked.
“No. I don’t,” I answered.
Pulling out a thin booklet, Malik said, “This is the Selangor law. Do you know that your bible contravenes this law?”
“Yes, I know, “ I said.
“When did you know that?” Malik asked.
“When I became chairman,” I answered.
With this Malik ended his questioning. If we disregard the initial niceties about me and my family, the questions about the bible took no more than 10 minutes.
Now, the last question whether I knew our bible contravened the Selangor law is a complex question of law. We can have a nice and long argument about what the interpretation of this law is. In the days after the raid, many NGOs and lawyers gave their understanding of this law. Perhaps, the best treatment came from the Bar Council. Now the JAIS fellows take the position that the Selangor law prohibits non-Muslims from using the word Allah and that we had broken the law. Did I believe I can persuade them to think otherwise? These guys were there for one purpose only, that is, to compile a case for the prosecution of BSM. As far as I am concerned, I am not afraid to tell them “Yes, we use the word and Yes, its against the Selangor law. If you want to prosecute us, then do it.”
After Malik had finished all his questions, he asked if there is anything I want to say.
“Yes,” I said, “all our bibles are brought into this country under the Ten Points Solution issued by the Federal Government.”
Showing him the inside cover of a Malay Bible stamped by KDN in 2011, I said, “Previously, the Federal Government legalised this bible by stamping its approval here. After that, they issued the Ten Points which made it unnecessary for the bible to be stamped. “
“Do you want to have a look at the government stamp,” I said as I held out the bible towards Malik.
“No,” Malik answered.
I thought this was an investigation. Seeing Malik’s disinterest in a piece of relevant evidence offered by me, I decided it was time to end the conversation.
The other gentleman brought what he had recorded to me and asked me to read it and if it was correct to sign it. I read it and then signed it. Malik and the others smiled and thanked me and I also smiled and said thank you. I then left the room. I waited outside as Sinclair went in to have his statement recorded.
When Sinclair finished, we went down to the lobby and the reporters wanted to know what happened. I had 2 choices: one, to protest and condemn in the strongest terms the actions of JAIS; or, two, to say something to defuse the tensions between the Christians and the Muslims that resulted from the raid. I chose the latter. These words came to my mind and later appeared in the press:
“The shared religious vocabulary that we have is something to be celebrated and should serve as a foundation for building unity, peace and harmony and is not something that should divide us.”
Following Christ under circumstances like these is extremely difficult. The selfish human will and wounded ego urges one to hit back and seek satisfaction for wrongs suffered until every last drop of the enemy’s blood has been shed. I hope that I was able to show the face of Jesus Christ to our Muslim friends in that brief encounter in JAIS’ office.