News of KDN stamping the 5,000 Al-Kitabs with serial numbers exploded in the online press on the evening of March 16, 2011. By the following day, the print and internet media was filled with protests from Christians, other religious communities, human rights groups and opposition parties. At the same time, the Sarawak State elections were getting nearer.
It was later revealed in the press that a special Cabinet committee “comprising the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Home Affairs, Minister of Unity, Minister in PM’s Department (Law and Parliamentary Affairs), Minister of Religious Affairs and Minister in PM Dept/CEO of PEMANDU (Idris Jala) and the Attorney-General met on Thursday, March 17, to discuss the issues at hand and find a fair and amicable solution” (Bernama, March 22, 2011).
By the evening of March 17, I received news that I had been invited for another meeting between Idris Jala and CFM.
This meeting held on the morning of March 18 took place at the Hilton Hotel, Petaling Jaya. A meeting room on the first floor had been prepared. BSM was represented by myself and General Secretary, Rev Simon Wong. Also present were the general secretaries of the various Christian organisations: Tan Kong Beng (CFM), Hermen Shestri (CCM) and Sam Ang (NECF). Idris Jala was accompanied by Attorney-General of Malaysia, Abdul Ghani Patail.
Idris announced to the meeting about the formation of the special cabinet commmittee. He also apologised for the stamping of the bibles and said that it was not on the order from the cabinet but was an initiative by the department head. Idris then announced that the Cabinet had decided that in future there will be no interference with the import of the Al-Kitabs as long as copies intended for West Malaysia carried the cross and the words “Penerbitan Kristian” (Christian Publication) on its cover. However, copies bound for East Malaysia need not have the cross and the words on its cover. The AG then explained that this solution was in line with the existing laws of the country.
At this point, I remarked, “The last time the Government promised to return our bibles, it ended up being chopped and spoiled by KDN officers.”
“What is there to prevent KDN officers in the future from interfering with the importation of our bibles? We need to have something in black and white, something concrete to ensure that this promise will not be broken.”
Idris then turned to the AG and asked what could be given in writing.
The AG thought for a while and very quickly suggested that the Chief Secretary of the Federal Government could issue an administrative directive requiring all civil servants to comply with this decision of the Cabinet and that if any civil servant went against it, he would be disciplined and punished.
Idris also announced to us that the Government will compensate BSM for the bibles that had been stamped and which cannot now be sold. He asked me how much this shipment cost. Simon answered, “RM70,000.”
To the best of my recollection, there was no protest or disagreement expressed by anyone present at the meeting. To be fair, this was not a negotiation meeting. Idris had come to announce to us the concessions made by the Government. The meeting yielded an additional element in that it was proposed that the concessions would be backed up by an enforcement procedure within the Government machinery. Would it work? We had no way of knowing. Short of repealing or amending the law, this was the best possible solution on the table.
A few days later, March 22, Idris made a press statement on behalf of the Government that he had met with Christian leaders on March 18 and announced the solution put forward by the Government as follows:
“1. The BM Bibles currently impounded in Kuching and Port Klang will be released with the words “For Christianity” stamped clearly in font type Arial/size 16 in bold. No other words or serial numbers will be stamped on the Bibles.
2. To ensure that there is no misrepresentation in its implementation by civil servants, the Government will issue a directive from the Director-General of the Ministry of Home Affairs. As with all similar directives, failure to comply with this directive will subject the relevant officers to disciplinary action under the General Orders.
3. To highlight the Government’s commitment to resolving this issue amicably, the Government has received an offer from Christian donors who are prepared to pay for the cost of all the Bibles, which have already been stamped and serialised. These BM Bibles can either be released in their present state (with stamps and serial numbers) or arrangements can be made to put stickers with the words “For Christianity” to cover the existing stamps and serial numbers. The choice is for the importers of these Bibles. In the event they do not wish to take possession of these impounded Bibles in the present state, the Christian donors will pay for the full cost of new bibles to be brought in with the words “For Christianity” printed at source or stamped with these words “For Christianity” by the Ministry of Home Affairs at Port Klang and Kuching.
At the end of this meeting, the representatives from Christian groups requested for time to meet and discuss and have advised the Government that they would revert on their decision as soon as practicable.”
(Next: The Story of the Ten Points – The Conclusion)