Time for Malaysia to Close Ranks: End to Bible Issue

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Just now a reporter called me and informed me that the Attorney-General has announced that no action will be taken in the case of the Malay Bibles seized from The Bible Society of Malaysia (see Malaysian Insider; Malay Mail Online). Thus, the case is closed. He asked me for my comment.

I told him that I am no longer President of BSM and that he should talk to BSM’s new president. He insisted that since the incident happened while I was President, he wanted to know how I feel about the latest development. I then obliged him with my personal comment which I reproduce below.

I have always believed that the Attorney-General will come to this conclusion. From the moment, JAIS raided BSM, arrested me and my colleague and seized 321 BM Bibles, we knew that JAIS had made a terrible mistake. Nevertheless, it has been a trying experience to endure 6 months of uncertainty of whether we are lawbreakers or law-abiding citizens until the nation’s highest legal officer confirmed that the Malay Bible did not breach any of the laws of Malaysia or its states (in my next post, I will provide the legal reasoning for this).

I thank God for the grace and fortitude that He has given to my colleagues in BSM and me to trust that God will bring about a just end to this controversy.

I now call upon all Christians in Malaysia to follow the teaching and example of our Lord Jesus Christ to forgive, put this incident behind us and go on with our duty as responsible citizens of Malaysia to build our nation on the foundation of peace and harmony.

I call on Christians to forgive JAIS. They were doing their job but they had wrongly interpreted the law. No one is perfect. Everybody makes mistakes. Let us forgive them just as Christ forgave us.

With the AG’s announcement, I now have an iron-clad case to sue JAIS for wrongly arresting me. Shall I do it? Of course not. I forgave JAIS a long time ago and have no intention to sue them or to punish them in any way. The AG’s announcement is better than any court judgment. There is nothing to be gained from a law suit except to satisfy a lust for vengeance. This is unchristian.

I hope the Church in Malaysia will put this incident behind us and concentrate on how God wants the Church to contribute to the life and the future of this nation.

Likewise, I call on JAIS to have the same spirit of goodwill to return the bibles quickly and implement the necessary measures in their administration to ensure that this incident will not be repeated.

Lessons from Terezin

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It’s been one month since my last post. I stepped down as President of the Bible Society of Malaysia on May 10 after completing a maximum 5-year term. On the very next day, I flew to Munich to chair the annual meeting of the Global Council of Advocates International, the worldwide organisation of Christian lawyers. I managed to catch holidays in Salzburg and Prague and here I will tell a travel story.

A most moving experience happened in Prague, Czech Republic. Prague has the appearance of a fairy tale city. There is so much of glitz to see but what caught my imagination was a tour to Terezin Concentration Camp and a walk through the Jewish Quarter of Prague. During 11 idyllic days in scenic Europe, the discrimination against religious minorities in Malaysia was never far from my mind. I wanted to see a facet of Prague that dealt with how discrimination in their society festered until it led to tragedy.

The Jews came to Prague, capital of Bohemia, in the 10th century. They were resented by the local population. The reasons were many. They were ethnically and culturally different. Often, that is enough to raise fears. Perhaps, the key reason was economic. In spite of restrictions placed on Jews, they prospered. Retrictions on trading and commerce only served to spur the Jews to succeed to the extent that they became money lenders to Europe. Nobody loves a money lender. Shakespeare in his “Merchant of Venice” portrayed the Jew as an unscrupulous money lender.

Prague’s rulers confined the Jews to a ghetto. They could not live or trade outside a walled city. They had to be indoors by night. This restriction on their movement meant that they could not take their dead for burial outside of the ghetto.

Jewish cemetery, Prague.

Jewish cemetery, Prague.

The picture above is taken inside the Jewish Cemetery. Prague’s Jews had to bury all their dead in the cemetery even though it was fully used. Over a period of 300 years,  20,000 people were buried in a small cemetery meant for only a few thousand. Up to twelve persons were buried in one spot, one on top of another. Gravestones jammed up around each other marked a final resting spot shared by multiple corpses.

In 1389, the church spread a rumour that the Jews had desecrated the host (ie the wafer and the wine used in the Eucharist). Some children had thrown stones at the host as it was carried past the Jewish quarter in a Good Friday procession. The Jews were blamed by the Christians for offending the religious sensitivities of the Christians. It did not matter that it was not true. People believed it. Or rather, they wanted to believe that it was true. It reminded me of the news back home just before we left. At a conference in a university, Christians were blamed for various ills in the Muslim community. Does it matter that it was not true?

Anyway, on Easter the Christians of Prague attacked the Jews in their ghetto. 3,000 Jews were massacred. As a result many Jews left Prague. Later, Bohemia’s rulers would regularly issue decrees ordering Jews to leave Prague. Go back where you came from! This is a cry that is always heard wherever discrimination rears its ugly head. It was only during the rule of some of Prague’s liberal rulers that the Jewish population in Prague recovered. Yet, for Jews who stayed, they had to live with a host of discriminatory laws regulating their private and social lives, trade, education, etc.

The ultimate discrimination took place during the Second World War. Hitler decided that the Jews was a curse to the purity of Europe’s Aryan races and therefore shoud be exterminated. Prague played an important role in Hitler’s plans. All the treasures and artifacts plundered from the Jews all over Europe by the Nazi Armies were ordered to be sent to Prague. Hitler had planned to use Prague’s Jewish Quarter as a museum of the Jewish people after he had exterminted them. That is why the Jewish Museum in Prague which is spread out over half a dozen synagogues and ceremonial halls has the best collection of Jewish treasures and museum pieces.

The Nazis sent Prague’s 70,000 Jews to live in another ghetto, the walled city of Terezin about 60 kilometres north of Prague. Terezin was built one hundred years earlier to protect Prague from an invasion from the north by Prussia. The attack never came and a smaller fortress a few kilometres outside Terezin was used to hold political prisoners of the Austrian Empire. The Nazis used the bigger fortress, the walled city of Terezin, to house the Jews of Prague and the smaller fortress as a prison and transit point for moving up to 300,000 Jews to the extermination camps to the East like Auschwitz, Treblinka, etc. Throughout the war, Terezin housed up to 144,000 Jews transported from all over Europe. Over 33,000 died in Terezin while another 88,000 were eventually transported to the death camps.

Cell blocks of Terezin's smaller fortress

Cell blocks of Terezin’s smaller fortress

Among the prisoners of Terezin were 10,000 of Prague’s Jewish children. After the war, only 250 survived. The names of all the children who died are engraved on the walls of the school house in Terezin. Writings and drawings by the children adorn the museums there as a testimony to a people who continued to organise education, promote art and culture even though they knew that death was appoaching. When Terezin was liberated by the Soviet armies, over 60,000 of Prague’s Jews had perished. The Nazis cremated as many of the corpses as they could and dumped the ashes in the river. After the war, the incinerators continued to be used for months to cremate the rest of the dead.

Go on a tour of Terezin when you visit Prague. Let it bring you back to the reality of life in this world. Walk through the Jewish Quarter of Prague and see the ugliness of human nature behind the gold and gild of Prague’s towers and monuments.

The drawings and writings of Holocaust victims in their museums is a stark reminder of their existence and their sorrowful struggle against bigotry and discrimination. The movie “The Monuments Men” is based on the true story of a small squad of soldiers assigned to recover the art treasures of Europe looted by Nazi armies. George Clooney’s character gives a speech to his men about the importance of their mission: “They can kill people and destroy their cities. They may be gone forever. Their art is the only evidence that they have ever existed.”

Discrimination begins with a perception, a perceived threat from a minority to the majority’s way of life, identity or self-respect. This perceived threat becomes the basis for discriminatory laws and policies in the name of protection of the majority. The minority is then isolated, disempowered and regulated. The power of the media is called up every now and then to frighten people about the threat posed by the minority. Eventually, when people are told that even laws and policies cannot subdue the minority, the only solution (for the Nazis, the final solution) left is extermination.

 

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.

Meet The Enforcers

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Justice must not only be done but must be seen to be done. The enforcement of law must have the appearance of impartiality and integrity. Enforcers of a law must inspire confidence that their enforcement of the law will be fair, just and humane.

I have already given a list of the actions which are considered to be offences and their punishments under the Non-Muslim Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988 of Selangor. Now we look at the enforcement of this law.

Unlike ordinary civil law, the power to investigate offences and to arrest suspected offenders under the Selangor Enactment is not automatically to the Police. Instead, these powers of enforcement are given to an “authorised officer.” An authorised officer must be specially appointed by the Enactment.

Section 10 of the Enactment gives the power to appoint an authorised person to the Ruler in Council. In simple terms, it means that the Sultan of Selangor meeting with and acting on the advice of the State Legislative Council appoints a “public officer,” that is, civil servants of the State or Federation, to be an authorised person.

On 16 November 1999, the appointment of authorised persons to enforce the Selangor Enactment was published in the Government Gazette. They are:

  • Secretary of the Majlis Agama Islam Selangor (MAIS) or the Islamic Council of Selangor
  • Head of Enforcement of the Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor (JAIS) or the Islamic Religious Department of Selangor
  • Deputy Director of Research of JAIS
  • Syariah Legal Adviser of JAIS
  • All District Religious Officers in the State of Selangor
  • All police officers of the rank of inspector and above

Of the 6 categories of authorised persons, only one is a civil authority, namely, police inspectors. The first four are high ranking officers of the Islamic hierarchy in the state. The fifth category include mid-level Islamic personnel in the state.

The raid on the Bible Society of Malaysia on 2 January 2014 was not carried out by the police. It was carried out by the head of enforcement of JAIS and his subordinates. There were 2 police constables standing outside BSM premises but they never took part in the raid. They were onlookers. It was a JAIS officer who carried out the arrest. No police was involved. In any event, the 2 policemen standing on the road outside were constables and not above the rank of inspector and so could not be authorised persons under the act.

There is something objectionable and inherently unjust in appointing Islamic religious officers of the state to enforce this Enactment against non-Muslims. Religious officers are inherently biased towards their religion and rightly so. They are the appointed protectors and defenders of their religion. Thus, in an event of an offence that is considered to be an infraction of the dignity of their religion, it is impossible for them to be objective. Thus, any investigation and arrest by them is invariably tainted with bias.

In the enforcement of civil laws, a police officer does not investigate a crime when he is related to the victim. A judge does not hear a case when he is related to the parties or is involved somehow in the facts of the case. This is a basic proposition of law. We call this conflict of interest.

Anyway, let’s go on with our discussion. Section 11 of the Selangor Enactment says that all offences are seizable offences. This means that a person suspected of committing this offence can be arrested. In a non-seizable offence, for example, running the red lights, the offender cannot be arrested but a summons must be issued to him to compel him to attend court.

Section 12 says that an authorised officer may investigate the commission of any offence under the Eanactment and may arrest without warrant any person suspected of committing such offence. It is presumed that the raid of BSM, the seizure of the bibles and arrest of BSM officers were carried out under this section.

Section 13 gives power to an authorised officer to require in writing any person to attend before him in connection with the case. If a person so ordered (that is, the witness) to attend fails to attend, a warrant of arrest may be obtained from a Magistrate to compel the witness to attend. Section 14 says that the authorised officer may examine orally the witness on the facts and circumstances of the case and the witness is bound to answer all questions truthfully. The only exception is that the witness may refuse to answer any question which would expose him to a criminal charge or penalty. The statement of the witness must be recorded and signed by the witness subject to the witness making any corrections he may wish.

There were people who advised me not to go to JAIS office to have my statement recorded. Such persons were well-intentioned but were ill-advised in the law. The lawmakers in Selangor put the law in place in 1988 and then set up the enforcement machinery in 1999. They knew what they were doing and they made sure that they got all the bases covered. They had set a net so that when they cast it, the fish would not escape.

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.

Counting the Cost

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In the days of the early church, there was no alternative to suffering arising from the persecution of Christians. In the times of Jesus and Paul, there was no such thing as democracy or human rights or elections. The early Christians lived in an environment where rulers were dictators and tyrants who wielded the power of life and death arbitrarily over their subjects. Thus, the early Christians developed a strong theology of suffering and submission to authority. In the modern world, especially in democratic societies including Malaysia, constitutional guarantees of human rights and access to justice have eroded the Church’s millenia-long values of suffering for the faith. Thus, when Christians or churches are persecuted today for the exercise of their faith, the modern-day “Christian response” is to fight back with all the legal and political weapons available in the Church’s armoury. In the wake of the raid on BSM, the principle of “turning the other cheek” as taught by Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount was reinterpreted by one Christian organisation to mean resorting to confrontation to assert one’s legal rights. They must have realised that it didn’t sound convincing. In a follow up article, they just simply said that to determine the Christian stand on church-state relations, you cannot refer to the bible but only to “Christian political tradition.”

There may still be many who want to do the work of God in Selangor and who are prepared to suffer the consequences. For such people, I wish to let you know what you are in for.

Non-Muslim Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988 of Selangor

Section Offence Punishment
4 Persuading, influencing or inciting a Muslim to change faith 1 year’s jail or RM10,000 fine
5 Subjecting a minor who is a Muslim to influences of a non-Muslim religion, ie receiving instruction, taking part in ceremony or worship or any activity associated with a non-Islamic religion 1 year’s jail or RM10,000 fine
6 Approaching a Muslim to subject him to any speech or display of any matter concerning a non-Islamic religion 6 month’s jail or RM5,000 fine
7 Sending or delivering publications concerning any non-Islamic religion to a Muslim 3 month’s jail or RM3,000 fine
8 Distributing in a public place publications concerning a non-Islamic religion to Muslims RM1,000 fine
9 Using prohibited words (eg. Allah) in a published writing, public or broadcasted speech or statement to describe anything pertaining to a non-Islamic religion RM1,000 fine

 

For those whose religious conviction tells them that they must follow God rather than man, I say to you that you have not chosen a wrong path but that you walk in the footsteps of the martyrs, the apostles and Jesus Christ Himself.