Man of the Year 2014

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This website has one purpose: to document the entire episode of the raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) by Selangor’s Islamic enforcement department (JAIS) and their seizure of 321 copies of the Malay language and Iban bibles on 2 January 2014. This website’s job was almost completed when the story of the return of the bibles by the Sultan of Selangor on 15 November 2014 was published (story here).

There is one last thing to do: to name the Man of the Year for 2014.

The award of malaysianbible.net’s Man of the Year 2014 goes to the Malaysian Christian who has made the most significant contribution to the cause of the Malaysian Bible in 2014 and who more than anyone else reflects and exemplifies the principles and values taught in the Bible.

This website’s Man of the Year for 2014 is Archbishop Datuk Bolly Lapok.

Archbishop Datuk Bolly Lapok

Archbishop Datuk Bolly Lapok

The Anglican Church’s official website describes him as “Archbishop of South East Asia & Bishop of Kuching.

Bolly, as most Christians call him, was not involved at the start of this incident. Neither was he a member nor an officer of BSM. In August 2014, the Sultan of Selangor in his effort to resolve this incident, decided to return the bibles out of state. It was then that BSM’s new president, Anglican Bishop Datuk Ng Moon Hing, requested Bolly to receive the bibles in Kuching on behalf of BSM.

All went well from the negotiations right up to the royal ceremony at the palace on 15 November 2014 when the bibles were symbolically handed over by the head of MAIS (Selangor’s Islamic Council) to Bolly.

A few weeks later, news broke that the released bibles were stamped by MAIS. Christians protested. Muslims rallied in defence of MAIS. The Sultan had the final word when he made it clear in an interview that he knew and approved of the stamping of the bibles. The issue died down immediately. To further protest the stamping would be to challenge the Sultan himself. However, mouths may be silent but hearts were restless.

It was at this time that Bolly rose to provide spiritual leadership to Malaysia’s Christians. The Star on 13 December 2014 carried this report:

 “Sarawak Archbishop Datuk Bolly Lapok said there was no intention on the part of the authorities releasing the said Bibles to desecrate them or be otherwise disrespectful to the Christian community.

 “In this holy season of Christmas, which Christians, celebrate God’s ultimate generosity to mankind, let us rejoice that this matter has been settled and go forward together to build a future for our nation, which embodies unity, peace and hope,” Bolly said in a statement here yesterday.

 The association, he said, viewed the Sultan of Selangor’s intervention in gaining the release of the Bibles as a demonstration of the muhibbah spirit and an earnest call to Malaysia’s diverse religious communities to live in harmony together.

 “Change is necessary as nations grow and develop.

 “The process must involve continuing dialogue and have it conducted in a manner which affirms mutual learning and respect – the principle of muhibbah,” he said.

This was a brave statement. It did not go down well with Christians brandishing knives in their demand for justice and satisfaction (link).

However, Bolly showed that the spirit of forgiveness and peace was truly in his heart when he preached his Christmas sermon one week later saying:

“We should not be mistaken that the shepherds [in the Christmas story] were oblivious to the politics of the day. They were troubled by political oppression and injustice from the Roman colonisers. I can imagine that in the face of such injustice, their discontent would have been mounting and anger boiling in their hearts at their own helplessness.

“But God intervened with the startling proclamation that a Saviour was born for them. The shepherds did not dismiss this encounter. Instead it moved them to act, to go and see the thing that had happened, and it transformed them into the first evangelists of the church.

 “We too have our own burdens and concerns. It could be harsh political realities, or a constant struggle to make ends meet, or relationship issues. For some the situation could be so hopeless that there is nothing left to live for.

 “Yet Christmas talks about a Saviour born, God with us. Because God is present in the world, there is no person so lonely, no place so forsaken, that God cannot offer forgiveness and reconciliation, justice and mercy, healing and hope.”

 “God’s presence in the world means that nothing could separate us from his love.”

 “Let us rise from our present concerns, fears and burdens and, like the shepherds, be moved to go and see the wonderful thing that has happened.”

Every now and then, God brings challenges to His Church in Malaysia. At the centre of each crisis is a man of God’s choosing, one divinely selected to represent the Christians of Malaysia to not only manage the crisis but also to show the true face of Jesus Christ to Christians as well as the rest of Malaysia.

Bolly could have protested the stamping of the bibles and he would easily have the support of Christians. But that would mean another collision course with the Muslims of Malaysia. Bolly instead chose forgiveness and reconciliation. To some, this was an act of weakness and cowardice. But people who think that have no understanding of Jesus Christ and his teachings. Forgiving requires strength and character. It is not the human thing to do. Forgiveness comes from God and the man who forgives is doing the work of God.

The year long bible issue needed a closure that would not open old wounds again. Bolly’s gestures ended the saga with grace and dignity that was unmistakably Christian and Christlike. Even the head of MAIS was later to admit being touched by Bolly’s magnanimous gesture. Would this be the seed of healing long needed between Muslims and Christians?

Bolly did not preach peace 6 months earlier when he reflected on the assaults by some Muslims on the Christian community. In his Easter sermon on 29 March 2014, this was what he said:

 “Today, we are gathered here in Bandar Sri Aman, a town whose very name means peace. This is indeed an historic assembly. History will surely judge us by what we say and do from today henceforth. We are on a prophetic threshold as children of God.

The Bible reminds us in Ecclesiastes 3:8 that there is a time for war and a time for peace. It seems a paradox that we are called to be peacemakers by our Lord and Saviour Christ Jesus (Matthew 5:9). Yet at the same time we are also to brace ourselves for war. Herein lies the mystery of living out our faith in obedience to our calling as Christians and to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

In the words of a highly respected clergyman, “Because by the grace of God we are defined as family with a call to action in reconciliation, then we have to find not only the call but also the means of being reconcilers, when our instincts and passions often lead us in the opposite direction.”

If the Church is not a place both of conflict and of reconciliation, … it is a failing or failed church. It has ceased to be the miracle of diversity in unity, of the grace of God breaking down walls.

Turning the other cheek is not the right answer in this situation.

With its multi-ethno-religious makeup, Malaysia can present itself as a model to be a miracle of diversity in unity. Unfortunately, the scourge of that ethno-religious strife is fast approaching its flashpoint with extremist elements of political Islam relentlessly stoking the fire of hatred and bigotry.

How then do we live? Some among those who mean well have suggested that when slapped on one cheek we are to offer the other.

 This is half-baked theology if turning the other cheek tantamounts to sending a wrong message to the provocateurs and extremists in political Islam that we are willing to abandon our calling to being peacemakers and reconcilers.

These extremists among political Islam are, in fact, a tyranny by the minority while the rest of us including peace-loving Muslims and non-Muslims, have been sucked into the spiral of silence only to become the suffering majority. Ultimately, it is for all Malaysians of goodwill to ensure that Malaysia is not hijacked by the deluded minority.

To turn the other cheek in these circumstances is indeed to bear false witness to the Gospel of reconciliation itself. This we will not do.”

The Bolly of 29 March was different from the Bolly of 12 December. The important point is this: the evidence of true humility and obedience to God is the willingness to change. It is said that the higher a man is, the harder it is for him to change. A man of courage and conviction has nothing to be ashamed of when the change is a result of following Jesus’ example and His teachings.

Archbishop Bolly Lapok, you are a man called by God to lead His people in Malaysia in the paths of peace. You have acted and spoken admirably in difficult times. You have shown Malaysians who Jesus really is. You have also shown Malaysians that Christians are builders not destroyers and that we have within us the spirit and love that will help this nation overcome its even greater challenges in the coming year.

You are my Man of the Year 2014.

ONE YEAR LATER: How the Bibles were returned

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Exactly one year ago today, Selangor’s Islamic enforcement department (Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor or JAIS) raided the office of the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) and seized over 321 copies of the Alkitab, the Malay-language Bible, and the Bup Kudus, the Iban-language Bible.

A few days later, the head of Majlis Agama Islam Selangor (MAIS) said that BSM had contravened Section 9 of the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988 because copies of the Bible distributed by the BSM contained the word “Allah”. The word “Allah” is among 34 words and phrases that non-Muslims cannot use in any circumstance, according to Section 9.

In June, the Attorney-General announced that BSM’s Alkitab had not violated the Selangor law and that no further action will be taken against BSM. As for the detained bibles, he advised that JAIS should act according to law. JAIS and MAIS refused to return the bibles.

A Secret Deal

In July, an old friend invited me for lunch. He said that he had been asked by parties representing the Sultan to inform us that the Sultan wanted to return of the Bibles. However, he did not wish to return the bibles in Selangor (where BSM’s office was) but asked if the bibles could be returned to BSM out of state, say, to East Malaysia. I informed my friend that I was no longer President of BSM but I would be happy convey this request to the BSM exco.

On 17 July, I wrote this e-mail to the BSM exco:

“I have received a communication from someone … informing me that the Sultan wants to return the bibles but he prefer to have the bibles sent to us in Sabah or Sarawak. He asked if we can agree to this and if so whether we can appoint a party there to receive on our behalf. He also asked that this be kept confidential.”

BSM’s exco decided to accept the Sultan’s proposal. They saw this as an appropriate closure to this unhappy episode. BSM’s new president, Bishop Ng Moon Hing then met with the people representing the palace. Thereafter, BSM appointed East Malaysian Anglican Bishop, Bolly Lapok, to work out the logistics with the Sultan’s emissaries.

By 6 August, this was accomplished in time before the meeting of the Conference of Rulers. The only thing left was for BSM to formally issue a letter appointing Sarawak’s Association of Churches (ACS) to accept the bibles on behalf of BSM.  This was done on 9 August. The agreement between the Sultan and BSM was thus concluded.

At this stage, it should be noted that other than the palace and BSM, no other party knew about or was involved in the negotiations to return the bibles. In particular, neither the State Government nor even the Federal Government were aware or involved.

Delayed by a Crisis

The quick return of the bibles was put on hold due to a crisis in the state. On 26 August, Menteri Besar (or the Chief Minister) Khalid Ibrahim resigned. His party, PKR, had been trying to unseat him for some time and eventually sacked him from the party. Anwar Ibrahim, the de facto head of PKR, wanted Wan Azizah, his wife and president of PKR, to be the new Menteri Besar. The Sultan did not agree but wanted a slate of names to be submitted for him to consider. Soon after that the Sultan went abroad. The squabble over the Menteri Besar’s post continued until the Sultan’s return. On 23 September, the Sultan appointed Azmin Ali as Selangor’s new Menteri Besar.

A Royal Ceremony

The date for the handing over ceremony was chosen, 14 November. At the palace’s insistence only representatives from ACS would be invited. No West Malaysian, in particular, BSM, would be allowed to attend. However, last minute appeals resulted in Hermen Sheshtri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, being the only West Malaysian allowed to attend.

Evidently, the new Menteri Besar had to be a participant in the ceremony. The week before the ceremony, Azmin Ali issued a number of press statements that he will be seeing the Sultan and will advise him to return the bibles and that the bibles will be returned by the following week. I was worried about the possible fallout of Azmin’s statements, particularly, that it will invite a backlash from Muslim extremist groups and scuttle the handing over ceremony. The effort over the past few months to keep this matter secret (including not posting on this blog) was at risk.

Happily, news broke in the late morning of 14 November that the ceremony had taken place. Bolly Lapok led the delegation from ACS. At the ceremony which took place in the palace, the head of MAIS handed over 2 copies of the bibles to Bolly Lapok under the gaze of the Sultan. Pictures were taken and released to the public and gentle warnings were issued that the Alkitab is not to be printed or distributed in Selangor.

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The head of MAIS (second from right) handing over 2 copies of the Alkitab to Bishop Bolly Lapok (third from left) in the presence of the Sultan of Selangor (third from right).

A Surprise: Bibles stamped again

The rest of the bibles were then sent to East Malaysia care of ACS. On 2 December, BSM received news that when ACS checked the bibles on its arrival, they discovered that all the bibles had been stamped with a notice in Malay and English stating as follows:

“Strictly for non-Muslims usage only and shall not be published or used in any part of the state of Selangor pursuant to section 9 (1) Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988”.

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Compliments of JAIS and MAIS

BSM’s exco was naturally infuriated. On 7 December, they issued a statement of protest and regarded the stamping of the bibles as a desecration of the Christian scriptures.

Three years earlier, the Federal Government released a shipment of 5,000 copies of Alkitabs imported by BSM which had been detained for 2 years. On the eve of the Sarawak state elections, the government decided not to risk a backlash from the Christian voters of Sarawak. They announced the release of the bibles. The department responsible for seizing the bibles in the first place, obviously unhappy at bring forced to release the bibles, stamped the bibles as a parting shot. History repeated itself.

On 11 December, an interview of the Sultan was published (link) indicating that he knew of and approved of the stamping of the bibles. The issue abruptly came to an end as no one wanted to involve the Sultan in this controversy. With this, the saga of the seized Alkitabs came to an uneasy closure.

How Federal Court Knocked Out Herald

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I have now seen a Press Summary of the majority decision of the Federal Court in the case of Titular Roman Catholic Bishop of Kuala Lumpur v. Menteri Dalam Negeri & Others (aka the Allah Case). With this, we can perform a better analysis of the judgment and understand its far-reaching effects.

It is not normal practice for the Federal Court to issue Press Summaries of the judges’ decision. Probably, the public importance of the case necessitated this interesting practice. The Press Summary for the majority decision ended with this rider: “This summary is merely to assist in understanding the Court’s judgment. The full judgment of the Court is the only authoritative document.” Presumably, the full judgment when released will not differ from the Press Summary but will expand on it.

I am only analysing the majority decision as it is the one that applies. The majority decision was announced or written by Chief Justice Arifin Zakaria (‘’CJ”). His judgment was concurred with by President of the Court of Appeal Raus Sharif, Chief Judge of Malaya Zulkefli Ahmad Makinudin and Federal Judge Suriyadi Halim Othman.

I have explained previously that an appeal to the Federal Court is not automatic. There are 2 stages: first, the losing party must get leave (or permission to appeal). Certain criteria must exist. Among them, the appeal involves new questions of law of public importance or involves interpretation of the Constitution. Secondly, once leave is granted, the Federal Court then hears the substantive appeal and decides whether the Court of Appeal had made a correct decision.

The lawyers for the Roman Catholic Church (“RC”) submitted 28 questions that should be answered by the Federal Court. The CJ grouped them into 3 groups: administrative law questions, constitutional law questions and general questions. The ruling of the Court of Appeal that the use of the word Allah was not an integral part of the Christian faith fell under the 3rd group.

Let’s see how the CJ dealt with the constitutional law questions first. The RC lawyers had argued that the state laws that banned the use of the word Allah had contravened Article 11 of the Constitution and consequently were null and void. Thus, the reliance by the Home Minister on these provisions to deny the Herald the use of this word was likewise unconstitutional. The High Court accepted this argument and ruled the relevant provision in the state law as unconstitutional. The Court of Appeal disagreed and ruled that the ban in the state laws were constitutional.

The CJ chose to sidestep this issue and declared this as a non-issue. As a non-issue, it could not be decided by the Federal Court and thus the entire group of constitutional law questions were thrown out. How did the CJ do this?

The CJ ruled that the prescribed procedure had not been followed. He said that Articles  4(3) and 4(4) of the Constitution provides that in order to challenge the validity of a state law, the RC must ask for a declaration and before doing so, must get leave from a Judge of the Federal Court. The state whose law is being challenged must be made a party to the lawsuit and be given the opprtunity to defend its law. He further said that under Article 128 only the Federal Court can hear such a case.

The RC had not done that. Instead, the RC applied for judicial review in the High Court.  The state was not made a party, only the Home Minister. The CJ said that this “collateral attack” on the state law could not permitted. Thus, the CJ said that the RC’s challenge of the state laws ought not even to have been heard by the High Court Judge for 2 reasons: “procedural  non-compliance and for want of jurisdiction.”

In other words, the CJ’s reasoning is that the constitutionality of the state laws that banned the use of the word Allah was never in issue in the High Court and Court of Appeal. Both courts had entertained an issue which should not have been brought before them or be considered by them. As, the constitutional law issues were non-issues (in the sense that by reason of procedural  non-compliance and for want of jurisdiction these issues were not properly brought before the courts and thus did not exist), they could not be issues or questions for the Federal Court to decide. Thus, the Federal Court cannot grant leave to hear these issues.

I will come back to the effect of such a decision. The CJ was then only left with the administrative law questions. Everything about this centred around the test used by the Court of Appeal. The RC lawyers argued that decided cases made it clear that a judge must apply an “objective” test to determine whether the Minister had made a correct decision. They argued that the Court of Appeal judges used the subjective test. Let’s not confuse ourselves with what objective or subjective means. The CJ said that, in spite of what the Judges actually said, he was of the view that the appeal judges had used the correct test, that is, the objective test. He also went on to say that even if he did not agree with the findings of the Court of Appeal, it was not open to him to grant leave. In other words, it was not a question whether Court of Appeal had made a right or wrong decision but whether the issue they had to decide involve questions of law that had never been decided before.

With the demolition of the constitutional questions, the only question left was whether the Minister was justified in making the decision that he did. If the ban in the state law went unassaulted, it was open to the Minister to rely on it as the basis of his decision.

Coming to the general questions, these were the ones that irked the Christian community as they felt that the Court of Appeal judges had no business making a ruling of a theological nature on the Christian faith. The CJ said that these remarks by Apandi Ali JCA were obiter dictum.

Now what is obiter dictum? It is another Latin expression cherished by lawyers. In a court case, there are certain issues which have to be decided by the court in order to decide a case. The decision of a court relating to issues of a case are the ratio decidendi ( literally, the reason for a decision) of the case. Findings or remarks on other issues which are not germane or crucial to the deciding of a case are obiter dictum (literally, peripheral views). For example, Mr A sues an employment agency for sending them an incompetent typist. The judge’s finding that the typist could not type is the ratio decidendi. His remarks that she was pretty and made the rest of the staff feel happy is obiter dictum.

The CJ said that Apandi Ali’s remarks were obiter dictum because “the Minister’s decision was never premised on theological considerations.” Thus, it was a matter which Apandi Ali need not comment on but if he did, it did not matter.

Although, it was left unsaid, the CJ could have gone further to say that Apandi Ali’s remarks related to issues that were not properly brought before the court (that is, the constitutional law questions). The only issue left was the correctness of the Minister’s decision.  Any of the appeal judges’ comments outside of that would not germane to the case and would be only obiter dictum.

Now, let’s consider the effect of the majority decision of the Federal Court. By side-stepping the issue, the Federal Court basically said that they were not making any ruling or expressing any view on the question whether the ban on the use of the word Allah in the state laws are constitutional or not. By saying that procedure had not been followed and therefore the state laws were not under challenge at all, the CJ is in effect nullifying both the High Court and Court of Appeal’s rulings that relate to the issue of the constitutionality of the ban of the use of the word Allah in the state laws. Therefore, the issue is still up in the air awaiting a definitive decision.

It is open to the RC to file a case in the Federal Court, first to apply for leave, and, if obtained, to go on to ask for a declaration that the state laws are unconstitutional when it banned the use of certain words. In such a case, the RC has to cite as defendants all the states whose laws are being challenged. Thus, the Federal Court decision has not shut the door on the rights of Christians. Instead, it has re-opened the doors.

How does the Federal Court decision affect 2 pending cases, the SIB case dismissed by the High Court and on appeal to the Court of Appeal; and, the Jill Ireland case, presently awaiting decision by the High Court?

The answer is that these 2 cases will suffer the same fate as they are exactly the same in terms of procedure as the Allah Case. These are cases of judicial review and brought against the Home Minister only. It means that these cases have also followed the wrong procedure by failing to comply with Articles 4(3), 4(4) and 128 of the Constitution. If the High Court Judge follows the Federal Court majority decision, she cannot consider the question of the validity of the ban on the use of the word Allah in the state laws. She can only consider the question whether the Minister made his decision properly and in accordance with law.

 

The Nature of Forgiveness

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Forgiveness is perhaps one of the most controversial of Christian duties. Easy to talk about but difficult to practice. 

Christians in Malaysia are angry over the way they are being treated. In the past few years, bibles have been seized, our religious vocabulary restricted, church buildings firebombed and the entire community villified and made the scapegoat for part of the nation’s ills. 

At a time like this, we struggle with Jesus’ teaching in his Sermon on the Mount. Surely, he was asking the impossible of us when he said:

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44)

Jesus asked us to adopt a response under persecution that suggests weakness and encourages the persecutor:

“Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also … If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matthew 5:39,41)

With some interpretive wizardry, perhaps we can make these verses say the opposite. But the logic of interpreting these words to mean an aggressive or retaliatory response breaks down when we look at Jesus’ own conduct when he himself was persecuted.

Jesus did not resist when he was arrested. Peter tried to prevent Jesus arrest by drawing a sword and injuring one of the arresting party. Jesus miraculously healed the injured man and rebuked Peter as follows:

“Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52-54)

During his trial before the Roman governor, Jesus made no defence but declared that he will not resist the Roman legal process he was subjected to. He said:

“My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36)

As he hung on the cross, Jesus prayed for his persecutors: those who conspired against him, who brought false charges against him and who perverted the law in order to slay him. Read what Jesus said:

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34)

Like every Christian, I was infuriated by JAIS’ raid on the Bible Society, the way my colleague and I were manhandled and hauled off to the police station and our sacred books unceremoniously bundled into vans used to transport khalwat offenders and transvestites. Two days after the event, I obtained my society’s mandate to take whatever legal action necessary. In the days that followed, as I reflected on Jesus Christ and on his teachings and example, it became clear that the greatest hurdle was not the systematic infringement of the Christian community’s  legal and constitutional right to freedom of religion. Our greatest enemy was ourselves and the demon threatening to possess us was the natural human urge to satisfy that bloodlust for vengeance. The defeat facing us not legal or political but spiritual. When we show a distorted and perverted picture of Jesus Christ and His Church to the nation, we would have lost everything.

The Spirit of God provides to God’s people in sufficient measure love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). 

The events of the past few days (viz. JAIS’ refusal to follow directives of the Attorney-General and the Menteri Besar to return the bibles) have caused many to question whether forgiving JAIS was premature or undeserved.

Christian forgiveness is unconditional. On the cross, Jesus Christ forgave his persecutors even though they were unrepentant and offered no apology. Jesus also knew the future. The night before, he warned his disciples that those who seek his death will also persecute his disciples in the future. Yet, he forgave these men knowing that their future actions will be undeserving of the kindness he showed them.

Christians forgive because it is the right and Christian thing to do. We also forgive because God through Jesus Christ forgave us of our sins and bestowed on us the privilege of being in God’s family.

“When you were dead in your sins … God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins … he took it away, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13-14)

As God has forgiven us, so we forgive those who sinned against us. We pray for them hoping that their wrongs will not blind them to the truth and preventing them from receiving God’s forgiveness and blessing of eternal life.

My last post suggested that JAIS be relieved of their appointment as enforcers of the 1988 Selangor anti-propagation law. This does not conflict with forgiveness. One can be forgiven of wrongdoing. But if possible the offender should not be placed in a position to continue doing wrong. For example, even a child molester can be forgiven but he should not be entrusted with the care of children.

Lastly, forgiving goes hand in hand with trusting God. Again, Jesus is the example:

“To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps … When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21,23)

Our trust in God was vindicated a few days ago when the AG announced his finding that BSM had broken no law, that the case be closed and the bibles be returned. JAIS is unable to accept the AG’s decision. Christians must be patient and continue to trust God that the solution that God wants to give to us will come about eventually.

Silence Does Not Mean Yes

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There is a saying “Silence means consent.” Only a fool believes in such a saying. There is no such principle in law. If an accused person remains silent in court when a charge is read against him, the court will call on the prosecution to prove his guilt. A rapist cannot claim innocence by saying that the female victim did not object.

Just now, a reporter called me. He said that it’s been 120 days since JAIS seized 321 Malay and Iban bibles from BSM. He asked whether the bibles have been returned. I told him, No.

He also told me that he called the Attorney General’s Chambers and asked about status of this case. The officer he spoke to said that they are not interested in charging BSM and please don’t disturb the AG.

Any prosecution under the Selangor Enactment must be prosecuted by the Attorney General. As one of the appointed enforcers of the Enactment, JAIS may investigate and present their investigation papers (known as the “IP”) with all the evidence and their recommendation to prosecute BSM to the Attorney General. If there is evidence that an offence has been committed, the Attorney General will then commence proceedings in the Magistrate’s Court in Shah Alam to charge BSM or me or Sinclair Wong for committing an offence under the Enactment. Then we will have to defend ourselves and the Magistrate’s Court will decide if we have committed an offence or not.

Reviews of the video recordings of the raid on BSM and the arrest show the senior JAIS officer saying “I arrest you under Section 9 of the Enactment.”

When my statement was recorded in JAIS’  office on 10 January 2014, the recording officer asked: “Do you know that your bible contravened the Enactment?”

Section 9 says that it is an offence to use any prohibited words (in this case, the word “Allah”) in a published writing to describe anything pertaining to a non-Islamic religion. Thus, the raid, arrest  and investigation by JAIS was predicated on the premise that the use of the word “Allah” in our Malay and Iban bibles was in contravention of Section 9 of the Enactment.

When JAIS submitted their IP to the AG, the AG had 2 choices: to charge BSM or not to take any action. According to various press statements made by the Selangor State EXCO, the IP was submitted by JAIS in either late January or early February. Three months have passed and the AG has not taken any action. If what was told by the AG’s office to the reporter is to be believed, the AG has decided not to charge BSM with the offence that JAIS thinks BSM had committed when we published and imported the Malay and Iban bibles.

I can imagine what happened at the AG’s office. When the IP from JAIS landed on his table, the AG would have looked at it with his officers.

“Shall we charge, Tan Sri?”

“You must be joking!”

“JAIS says they are guilty, Tan Sri. They should know. They are very religious people.”

“No, no. No way am I touching this case.”

“So, shall I inform JAIS, Tan Sri?”

“What! No, no! Let them clean up their own mess.”

So, if the AG does not charge, it means that the case submitted to him by JAIS does not raise the minimum evidence for him to prosecute and win the case.

The silence of the AG does not mean that he is looking at the case and considering whether to charge. Silence does not mean pending especially when it it is unreasonably prolonged.

A Section 9 offence is a very simple case. BSM used the word “Allah” in the Malay and Iban bibles. We are not denying it. So, either we have committed an offence or we have not. Simple as that. Our AG is no fool. He does not need more than 3 months to decide a case as simple as this.

The reporter also asked me if this is the case, why is it that JAIS still does not return the bibles. I told him he has to ask this question of JAIS, not me.

This is a question everyone is asking. Why doesn’t  JAIS return the bibles? After all, the only reason for keeping the bibles is to use it as exhibits in a prosecution of BSM in court. If there is not going to be a prosecution, then there is no reason for keeping the bibles.

Let me say that even if BSM is prosecuted, only one copy of the Al-Kitab needs to be produced in court as an exhibit. JAIS can use the copy that they bought from BSM bookstore in August 2013. They don’t need 321 bibles to prove their case.

The reason why JAIS does not want to return the bibles is that this would amount to an admission that they had wrongly raided BSM on 2 January, wrongly arrested BSM’s officers and wrongly interpreted the law. The return of the bibles would result in a massive blow to JAIS’ prestige.

Selangor State EXCO in many press statements had said that JAIS was justified in carrying out the raid and that they had acted within the law. The return of the bibles would also be an indictment against the Selangor government. They would be seen as backing an unjustified raid against non-Muslims for the exercise of their faith.

Too many sins have been committed. It is better to hold on to the bibles and tell the public that they are waiting for the AG to say something. Hopefully, if they hold out long enough, everybody will forget about it.

Questioning by JAIS

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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.

Sinclair Wong (left) with me at JAIS offices.

Sinclair Wong (left) with me at JAIS offices.

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.

In Memory: Karpal Singh, True Humanitarian

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This has nothing to do with the Malay Bible. But I can’t help but feel a sense of loss with the passing of colleague at the Bar and friend, Karpal Singh. So, here’s how I remember him.

It must have been around 1985 when I was helping a convict on death row who had become a Christian while in prison. Liew Weng Seng was sentenced to death under the Internal Security Act for possession of a firearm. At the Federal Court, Liew was unrepresented and proceeded to tell the court that he was guilty and did not wish to appeal his death sentence. When court was adjourned, his family tried to pass him a bible but was prevented from doing so by the prison warders. A commotion ensued and made the news the next day. When I read the report, I thought, “Hey, this guy is a Christian and he had just told the court to go ahead to hang him.”

I called the office at Pudu Prison and arranged for an appointment to see Liew. When we met, he confirmed that what the newspapers reported was what happened in court. I listened as he told his story of how he got into crime. It was a pitiful story of a boy growing up in the slums and being influenced by the gangs. Soon he was committing crimes. The law caught up with him. Possession of firearms was a capital offence. Liew was not yet 30 as he faced the gallows. Since his case was over, I offered to write a petition for pardon on his behalf to the King. I would not charge him any fees. It was a favour to a fellow Christian. Liew agreed. Over the next one year, I would visit Liew. As he spoke no English or Malay and as my Chinese was vitually incomprehensible, I always brought along a Chinese pastor with me to encourage and minister to Liew.

One day, Liew’s family called me. They said the prison had called to say that Liew will be hanged in 3 days time. I told them I would do what I can. I called the prison and then the palace to find out what happened to Liew’s petition for pardon. Eventually, I was told that it was rejected and the court had issued a warrant for his execution. I went to see Liew with his family. It saddened me that our friendship over the past year was coming to an end. Liew said that he had made his peace with God and he was not afraid. I asked him if he would consider doing some good with his death by donating his organs. He agreed. Over the next 2 days, I went to the General Hospital to find out the procedure and paperwork for this sort of thing. On the eve of his execution, I came to see Liew one last time and gave him some papers to sign to donate his organs. I bought him a meal from the prison canteen. Then we said goodbye and I told him we will meet again one day.

I arrived home late in the afternoon, went to the backroom of my house and laid down on a bed. I did not want my wife and child to see the tears I shed for Liew. In 12 hours time, Liew will be taken from his cell (at 5.00 am the next day) and be hung by the neck till he was dead.

Suddenly, my wife walked into the room and said, “Karpal Singh is here to see you.”

I went to my front door and saw Karpal Singh and another lawyer, Ngeow Yin Ngee, standing at my front door.

“Are you Liew Weng Seng’s lawyer?” asked Karpal.

“Yes,” I replied.

Karpal then explained that he was the lawyer for 2 convicts who were scheduled to be hanged at the same time with Liew. Karpal’s clients were found guilty of assassinating the Chief Police Officer of Perak. They had waited for him at a traffic junction in Ipoh and shot him to death when he passed by. Karpal said that he had filed a court case raising some legal technicality and had obtained an ex parte stay of execution from Judge Hashim Yeop Sani (ex parte means that the order was given after hearing only one side; later, the Judge would re-hear the case from both sides). When Karpal went to Pudu Prison to serve the order for the stay of execution, he was informed that there was a third man to be executed, Liew.

“Come with me,” Karpal said, “we’ll go to my office and prepare the papers and get a stay of execution for your client as well.”

It must have been about 6.00 pm when we drove back to Kuala Lumpur in Ngeow’s car. We reached Karpal’s office past 7.00 pm. He then started to dictate to his clerk who typed furiously on the typewriter. I gave them Liew’s details. I was still in a daze. All the time, Karpal worked at preparing the papers like a man consumed and trying to beat a deadline. We must have finished the paperwork at about 9.00 pm. It was 8 hours to the execution.

“Let’s go see the Judge,” Karpal said.

The first place we went to was the home of Madam Harwanth Kaur, the Senior Assistant Registrar to Judge Hashim. We bundled her into the car and four of us drove to the home of Judge Hashim in Petaling Jaya. We reached his house at 10.00 pm and Karpal banged on his door. We were let into the Judge’s living room.

“Judge,” said Karpal as he handed the judge a stack of papers, “there is another man due to be hanged tomorrow. Can you give a stay of execution for him as well?”

“The Attorney-General will jump!” sniggered Judge Hashim as he signed an order for the stay of Liew’s execution.

We then left the Judge’s house and drove to the High Court at Kuala Lumpur. It was 11.00 pm when we arrived. The courthouse was in total darkess and tightly shut. We found the security guard and Harwanth ordered him to open the court doors. Four of us went into the registry section of the court house. We were looking for the court seal. The court order although signed by the Judge was no good without the seal of the court imprinted on it. The four of us fanned out to look for the court seal. It was a stroke of good fortune that we found the court seal in a short time. Harwanth sealed the court order and handed it to Karpal. We left the court house but first we had to send Harwanth back home. Her job was done.

When we arrived at the gates of Pudu prison at 12.30 am the next morning, there was a crowd of reporters surrounding the huge metal prison door. Karpal banged on the doors. A warden poked his head out and said, “All of you please stay out. Only Mr Karpal, Mr Ngeow and Mr Lee can come in.”

Karpal duly served the order for a stay of Liew’s execution on the prison director. The next day, the papers reported a sensational last minute rush to save 3 men from the gallows.

Within a week, we were back in Judge Hashim’s court. The Attorney-General, Abu Talib Othman, did jump and he made an application to the Judge to set aside all 3 stay orders. Karpal argued the case with his usual brilliance. I cannot remember the legal point. All I can remember was that it was never argued before. Karpal had no previous court decisions to rely on. It was like going back to school to see Karpal at work and the lesson: “Think outside the box.” At the end of arguments, the Judge set aside the 3 stay orders clearing the way for the men to be executed under a fresh warrant. Karpal appealed to the Federal Court. Again, it was dismissed.

Let me pause awhile. Throughout this time, Karpal did all the work for Liew’s case, paid for all the court expenses and made sure I was always present to take part. He never once talked about payment. It was as if he was meant to do this.

A few months later, warrants of execution were issued again. Judge Hashim had ruled that the High Court could not order a stay of execution. It must be ordered by the Attorney-General who was the chairman of the Pardons Board. Karpal made appeals to the Attorney-General but it fell on deaf ears.

On the eve of the execution, Karpal summoned Ngeow and I to his office. It was about 8.00 pm when we got there. Karpal did a lot of things at night as he would be in court the whole day doing more than one case per day. He suggested we go to see the ambassadors of the European countries to seek their help to persuade the government to delay the executions. Karpal had discounted the US ambassador as the Malaysian government under Dr Mahathir was hostile to the US. However, the government had good ties with the Europeans.

We went to see the German ambassador. He informed us that the European embassies have a system where they would appoint one of the European ambassadors on rotation as a representative to speak to the Malaysian government on behalf of the rest. At that time, the French ambassador was the chairman. So, off we went to the French ambassador’s house. I cannot remember the conversation as it was a long time ago. But the ambassador told us that he was not able to help.

We went back to Karpal’s office at midnight. 5 hours to the execution. Karpal was wracking his brain to think of something. I was exhausted and had almost given up but I hoped that Karpal would again pull something out of his hat. How about this? No, won’t work. How about that? On and on we went. At about 2.00 am, 3 hours to execution, Karpal said that there’s nothing more we could do. He asked us to go home. A few hours later, Liew and the other 2 convicts were dead.

Lawyers can be the most heartless of men. Society had a reason for calling lawyers sharks. Its because we thrive on the misfortunes of others. Most lawyers I met are in it for the money. They have no heart for their clients who they see to be nothing more than a source of income. Karpal was not like that. In my encounter with him over Liew’s case, Karpal demonstrated true humanity and a genuine care for his clients. Whatever their crimes were, he saw them as human beings and felt a sense of responsibility for them over and above the call of duty.

Karpal Singh was a true humanitarian. We will miss him.