BSM Media Statement: 2 April 2014

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After making many promises to return the bibles seized by JAIS, Selangor State EXCO washes their hands off the problem and tries to pass the buck to Attorney-General. Read Menteri Besar Khalid’s statement here ( at Malaysian Insider; Malay Mail; Free Malaysia Today). Here is my response on behalf of Bible Society of Malaysia:

BSM will not write to AG.

BSM was raided by JAIS, a Selangor government department. The bibles are held by JAIS in their office in Shah Alam, a stone’s throw from the Menteri Besar’s office.

This problem was caused by a department of the Selangor State Government. It was an assault by Selangor State authorities against the rights of the Christian community in Selangor. It is the responsibility of the Selangor State Government to correct this unjust situation and BSM will not be party to Khalid’s attempt to dump his rubbish in somebody else’ backyard.

The Federal Government has given the Ten Points Solution in 2011 that allowed Christians to import, print and distribute the Alkitab throughout Malaysia. In reliance on the Ten Points, BSM has imported the Alkitab on many occasions over the past 2 years and the Federal Government has faithfully honoured the Ten Points when they ensured that each shipment of bibles were promptly cleared and released without delay.

The action of JAIS in raiding BSM and the Selangor State Exco washing their hands off their responsibility today is a clear statement to the people of Selangor that the Government of Selangor rejects the Ten Points Solution and that it does not intend to accord Christians in Selangor as well as the rest of Malaysia access to their holy books in the national language.

Recollections: How Did We Get Here? (Part II: Laws and Bans)

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In early 1976, Malaysian Prime Minister, Tun Abdul Razak, passed away in London when undergoing medical treatment. I remember the date as the university examinations were postponed as a mark of respect. Tun Hussein Onn succeeded him as Prime Minister. Later that year, Hussein Onn announced on live television that he had appointed Dr Mahathir Mohamed as the Deputy Prime Minister. I remember the Prime Minister broke down at one point and wept as he said, “I hope I did not make a mistake.”

Coming back to our subject, why did Terengganu pass an anti-propagation law in 1980?

In 1980, Terengganu was ruled by Barisan Nasional. The Prime Minister at that time was Hussein Onn who was also the leader of BN. However, Hussein Onn’s popularity in UMNO was at a low ebb (Wain, Malaysian Maverick, pp. 39-40). He was also very sick and in early 1981 had to go to London for medical treatment prior to his retirement. In his absence, Dr Mahathir was acting Prime Minister. Terengganu was a backwater state and the state legislative assembly was made up of Muslims. The passage of that law went unnoticed.

In 1980, the country was in transition. It was preparing for a change of leadership. The Iranian Revolution in 1979 gave a new leash of life to many Islamic movements in Malaysia primarily PAS, the Islamic opposition party which back then agitated for an Islamic state. UMNO responded to the claims of PAS, as later events would show, by portraying itself as the true champion of Islam in Malaysia instead of PAS. Later on, the challenge of the country’s most radical Islamic youth movement, ABIM, was neutralised by Mahathir co-opting its leader, Anwar Ibrahim, into UMNO and the Government. In the 1982 general elections, Anwar defeated PAS in their own backyard to win a parliamentary seat.

The passing of the Terengganu law in 1980 was the first demonstration of UMNO’s credentials as Islam’s champion. The war to protect the honour of Islam had begun. The following year in 1981, Kelantan passed a similar law. Kelantan at that time was under the rule of BN since the declaration of emergency in Kelantan in 1977 (by doing so, the Federal government was able to kick out the PAS-led state government).

The next stage was the banning of the Malay Bible. Thus, at the end of 1981, the Home Minister issued an order under the Internal Security Act 1960 (ISA) to ban the Al-Kitab on the grounds that it was prejudicial to the security of the nation. Why? The Al-Kitab contained words which contravened state laws. An outcry from the Christian community in 1982 led to the Government modifying the ban into a partial ban. Thus, in 1983, a new order was issued by the Home Minister banning the Al-Kitab except for use by Christians in churches.

Thus, the passing of the Terengganu law was necessary to criminalise the Al-Kitab’s use of certain words and provided the justification for the Federal Government to impose a nation-wide ban on the Malay Bible. By doing so, the UMNO-led government would be clearly seen as the champion and protector of Islam in Malaysia.

In 1987, the nation tottered at the brink of communal violence due to an UMNO-MCA dispute over Chinese vernacular schools. Hundreds of people were detained without trial under the ISA. One of the groups of people detained were Christian evangelists accused of propagating Christianity to Muslims. It was in this atmosphere of religious paranoia existing in 1988 that the states of Kedah, Malacca, Perak and Selangor passed laws similar to that passed by Terengganu in 1980. Pahang followed suit a year later and in 1991, Negeri Sembilan and Johor also passed this law. It would be 20 years later in 2002 when Perlis became the the latest state to adopt this law.

By the time the Federal Government took action to systematically restrict the importation of the Al-Kitab in the mid-2000s, they were able to argue that the words in question had been banned for a long time and the Christians had no business using it in their Malay Bible. Furthermore, this argument had been repeated so often in the Malay and Islamic media by UMNO politicians that in the minds of most Malays the word Allah was without doubt the sole preserve of Muslims. A recent survey by the Merdeka Centre showed that 77% of Muslims believe that Christians should not use the word Allah.

Some pointers can be drawn from the above historical treament. Firstly, the ban on the use of the word Allah is the result of politics. Secondly, the danger of non-Muslims using the word was an idea manufactured by a political agenda and implemented by laws and governmental orders to convey the appearance of illegality. Thirdly, the anti-propagation laws were passed by BN-ruled states. Fourthly, when these states fell into the hands of opposition parties (eg. Kelantan, Selangor and Kedah), their was no interest or commitment by the opposition parties to undo these laws or to alleviate its harsh effects.

RECOLLECTIONS: HOW DID WE GET HERE? (Part I)

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The heart of the ongoing Allah controversy and also the basis for the raid on The Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) by Islamic Department of Selangor (JAIS) is a Selangor state law which seeks to control and restrict the propagation by non-Muslims of their religion to Muslims. In particular, the law makes it an offence for a non-Muslim, in a published writing or broadcasted speech, to use the word Allah (among others) to refer to anything in a non-Muslim religion.

We need to ask the question: Why did these laws even exist in the first place? In order to answer this question, we need to understand the historical context.

In the 19th century, the British colonised the Malay peninsula. Singapore, Malacca and Penang called the Straits Settlements fell under the direct rule of the British. For the rest of the peninsula, the British intended to introduce a system of indirect rule. The Treaty of Pangkor was entered into between the British and the ruler of Perak in 1874. The Perak ruler had to accept a British Resident who would in effect rule the state. By this treaty, the British gained effective and absolute rule and control over Perak. However, the British did not want the local people to think that they had ousted the sultan. So, it was important to give the appearance that the sultan was still in control. Thus, the Treaty of Pangkor stipulated that the sultan had to accept the advice of the British Resident in all matters except matters relating to Malay religion and custom.

From the inception of British colonisation, residual powers like these were given to the sultans as the British took away everything else. The sultans were still the heads of Islam and they retained the power to decide on and administer matters relating to Islam and Malay customs. This model was followed in the rest of the states that the British colonised except that in the Unfederated Malay States the Resident was called Adviser.

For the next 80 years when the British ruled Malaya, they did not allow any Christian missionary work among the Malay peoples. Significant defections of Malays from Islam would reduce the power base of the sultans and this would chip away at whatever little power the sultans were left with. The British were more concerned with the success of their colonial programme and did not want anything, in particular, missionary activity, to upset the Malay sultans and the Malay people (see Michael Northcott, “Two Hundred Years of Anglican Mission” in Hunt, Lee and Roxborough, edd, Christianity in Malaysia, Pelanduk Publications, 1992, pages 35, 36 and 40).

Thus, British policy gave rise to a thinking that, firstly, matters relating to Islam belonged exclusively to the Malay rulers, and, secondly, propagation of other religions to Muslims must be avoided.

On the insistence of Malay nationalists and the Malay rulers, this thinking was reflected in the Malaysian Constitution when the country gained its independence in 1957 (see Joseph Fernando, The Making of the Malayan Constitution, MBRAS, 2002) . The Yang Dipertuan Agung became head of Islam for the Federal Territories and the sultans were the heads of Islam in their respective states. In the division of powers between the Federal and State governments, it was enshrined in the Constitution that the power to legislate on Islam belonged to the States. While a chapter on human rights was introduced, freedom of religion was qualified by Article 11(4) which stated that states may pass laws to control and restrict the propagation of other religions to Muslims.

While this power was given the States, it was never used for more than 20 years. In 1980, the state of Terengganu passed the first of such laws, the Control and Restriction of the Propagation of Non-Islamic Religions Enactment (No. 1 of 1980) of Terengganu. Other states followed suit. The complete list is as follows: Terengganu: 1980; Kelantan: 1981; Kedah: 1988; Malacca: 1988; Perak: 1988; Selangor: 1988; Pahang: 1989; Negeri Sembilan: 1991; Johor: 1991; Perlis: 2002. Only 4 states do not have such laws: Federal Territory, Penang, Sabah and Sarawak.

Why did Terengganu pass the law in the first place? An examination of the social and political situation in Malaysia in the 1970s does not disclose any friction between the various religious communities. The only inter-religious conflict I could think of was the Kerling Incident in 1977 where a number of Muslim zealots were killed by temple caretakers when they attacked a Hindu temple in Kerling in the middle of the night. This incident had nothing to do with the use of Quranic expressions but arose from the sensitivity of some Muslim extremists towards religious images.

In his article, “Allah judgment: The role of Mahathir, PAS and Anwar,” Rama Ramanathan identified Dr Mahathir’s diabolical diagnosis of genetic and mental weakness of Malays as the root cause of the present “Allah” dilemma. He said:

“Mahathir became Deputy Prime Minister in 1976 and became Prime Minister in 1981 when his predecessor Hussein Onn resigned “due to health reasons.” At that time, Mahathir was considered unlikely to succeed. There were serious doubts over whether he could lead Umno to victory. He was vilified by PAS. Mahathir soon proved his critics wrong. He patiently and vigorously sculpted strategies to ensure his survival for long enough to achieve his vision for Malaysia. Mahathir devised a powerful strategy to rob PAS of the claim that Umno is not ‘Islamic’. He would ‘show the people’ Umno was Islamic, and would make Malays rich. Mahathir used Islam as a tool to sculpt the new image of Umno. Barry Wain has put it so well, I can do no better than to quote him again: “Recast overnight by his critics as an “anti-Muslim villain” and contemptuously labelled Mahazalim, Mahakejam and Mahafiraun – the Great Oppressor, the Cruel One and the Great Pharoah: in summary, the cruellest of them all – Dr Mahathir chose not to address the many sources of discontent. Instead, he tried to recover Malay affection by further out-bidding PAS on religion, offering some of the items on the fundamentalist agenda he had always opposed. Encouraged and emboldened, religious bureaucrats flexed their muscles and tried to impose a grim form of Islamic orthodoxy (Barry Wain, Malaysian Maverick: Mahathir Mohamad in Turbulent Times, Palgrave: 2009 p. 218). Mahathir co-opted Anwar Ibrahim, then leader of ABIM. At the time Anwar joined Umno in 1982, only Terengganu and Kelantan had passed the restrictive enactments. How did Umno get its Islamic credentials? (1) The co-option of Anwar, a politician with stellar Islamic credentials; (2) Mahathir’s strategy of doing “Islamic things” like passing legislation to ‘show’ Umno is Islamic – and thereby silence PAS; (3) courting the international media and showcasing Malaysia as an Islamic nation.”

(Tomorrow: The next step in the grand plan)

 

JAIS and Non-Muslims

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One of the objections over the raid on BSM by JAIS was that JAIS only has jurisdiction (or legal powers) over Muslims and does not have jurisdiction over non-Muslims. So what was an Islamic enforcement body doing acting against non-Muslims?

The Constitution of Malaysia allows the states to pass laws to create Islamic legal systems and to provide for their administration. Like all the other states, Selangor has passed a host of Islamic enactments to govern Muslims in areas like personal faith, marriage, divorce, custody of children, inheritance and administration of estates. The Islamic statutes also created various bodies to enforce the Islamic system and its laws. JAIS is one such body. Thus, it is true that JAIS has jurisdiction and powers on Muslims under the Islamic enactments of Selangor that apply only to Muslims in Selangor.

However, Article 11(4) of the Constitution allows states to pass laws to control and restrict the propagation of non-Muslim religions to Muslims. In 1988, the state of Selangor passed the Non-Muslim Religions (Control of Propagation Amongst Muslims) Enactment 1988. This Enactment is a civil law and it applies to non-Muslims.

Various acts of propagating non-Muslim religions to a Muslim constitute offences under Sections 4 to 8 of the Enactment like influencing a Muslim to change his faith, inviting a Muslim to hear a sermon, sending non-Islamic religious materials to a Muslim and distributing non-Islamic religious literature to Muslims in public.

Of particular interest is Section 9 which make it an offence for any person in a published writing or speech or statement to use certain words listed in the Schedule to refer to any thing pertaining to a non-Muslim religion. In the schedule are over 30 words, the first of which is the word “Allah.”

Interestingly, the police have no automatic powers to enforce the Enactment. Only public officers appointed in writing by the Ruler of the state are authorised to act in respect of any offences committed under the Enactment. Such authorised officers have powers to investigate and arrest without warrant (Section 12). An authorised officer is also empowered to record statements and if a person summoned refuses to attend to have his statement recorded, the authorised officer may apply to a Magistrate for a warrant of arrest to secure the attendance of that person (Section 13).

In 1999, the Selangor state government gazetted the appointment of various Islamic officials as authorised officers under the 1988 Enactment. They included the Head of Enforcement of JAIS, the Deputy Director of Research of JAIS and the Syariah Legal Advisor of JAIS.

Thus, the legal framework for JAIS to act against non-Muslims was put in place starting in 1988 and completed in 1999. During that time, we were living under the delusion that as long as we are non-Muslims, JAIS cannot touch us. The truism is that no one who is given powers can long resist the temptation to use it. Thus, on January 2, 2014 these powers given to JAIS to act against non-Muslims were used for the first time. It certainly won’t be the last!

How can this power be removed from JAIS so that they stick to policing Muslims only? Two ways: one, change the law, or, two, change the gazette notification that conferred the power on JAIS. Very simple. Who is to do that? Answer: Those in control of the State Legislative Assembly of Selangor and those who advise and act through the State Ruler.

 

The Arrest, Part II

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One of the more exciting aspects of the job of the enforcement officers of JAIS is to catch Muslim couples committing pre-marital sex or adultery. These episodes usually involve night time raids and kicking down doors to catch wrongdoers in the act. Some years ago in one of the states up north, a group of Islamic enforcement officers raided a house where a Muslim man was carrying on a liaison with a Muslim woman whom he was not married to. As in previous raids, the enforcers burst into the room surprising the couple. Unfortunately, the man happened to be a policer officer. He pulled out his service revolver and promptly shot the first enforcer he saw. The poor enforcer died and the police officer was charged with two crimes, khalwat and murder (or manslaughter). Since then, JAIS raids have been carried out in the presence of police officers although the raiding and arresting would be carried out by JAIS. The Police are there to watch and make sure that these guys don’t get shot again.

Of course, there was no such danger to the JAIS enforcers when they raided the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) on January 2, 2014.

By 2.45 pm, everyone from JAIS had left the Damansara Utama Police Station leaving Sinclair Wong and me with a handful of police constables who were probably perplexed as to what was going on. They definitely had never seen JAIS drag in non-Muslims. The number of reporters who came to interview us grew and very soon a little press conference was developing. Sinclar and I were seated on a sofa just in front of the station door. BSM’s General Secretary, Rev Simon Wong, had joined us to serve as our bailor. A police constable had earlier told us that we had to wait for the inspector in charge of bail to come back before we could be released on bail.

Our press conference was going on peacefully until some camera men came in with large video cameras on rather large tripods. About 2 of them started filming. It was at this stage that the police constables must have felt an invasion of their territory.

One of them shouted at the cameramen, “Oi, tak boleh ambil gambar. Keluar! Keluar!” (Hey, cannot take pictures. Get out! Get out!)

As the policemen pushed one camera man out, another one slipped in. In a display of resourcefulness, the policemen must have thought that if they can’t get rid of the press, they could try to isolate us from them.

One of them came and spoke to us in the most deferential of tones, “Encik, sini sangat panas, lah. Saya bawa encik ke pejabat kami. Boleh duduk di sana. Ada air-con juga.” (Sir, it’s very hot here. Let me take you to our office. You can sit there. There’s air-conditioning there).

Being arrested persons, we will follow the dictates of those who have custody of our bodies. So, we followed a policeman who lead us out through the back of the station house. We walked across an open space to another building and was ushered into a room at the ground floor. As we entered, the stench of cigarette smoke and body odour hit our nostrils. The policeman pointed to a sofa and invited us to sit.

I stood motionless in the room for a moment. Then I said to the policeman in Malay, “I am not going to sit in this room. It stinks. I have a lung problem and I cannot tolerate cigarette smoke.” Immediately, the policeman took us out and led us to an open space between 2 buildings where a tarpaulin shade was erected. There was a collapsible table and some chairs piled up on top of each other. It was obvious that this was left over from a New Year’s party the day before. The policeman apologised that there was no fan here but I told him its all right and that I’d rather sit there than inside.

The station house was about 50 metres from were we were. The reporters outside the station house saw us take our seats under the shade and started walking toward us. Three policemen formed a line and stopped them from coming near us and chased them back to the station house.

Very soon, some well dressed individuals were allowed past the police line and came to join us. They were Members of Parliament and Selangor State Assemblymen from the Democratic Action Party (DAP).

By about 4.15 pm, we were told that the bail officer had returned and that our bail papers could now be signed. We went back to the station house and were shown the way into a very small room were a young malay police inspector was seated. Sinclair and I signed our respective bail bonds and Simon signed as our bailor. Then the inspector tore out one copy from the book and gave a copy to Sinclair and me.

I looked at my copy and told the inspector that the bail bond did not say where I should go next. This is where an explanation about bail bonds is in order. When someone is arrested, the police can detain him for 24 hours. After that, the police must take that person to court and obtain a magistrate’s order to hold him for a further period of up to 14 days. During the period of detention, the police will carry out investigations to determine whether an offence has been committed. At the end of the remand period, the police must release the arrested person. However, as happens very often, the police can release the person earlier on bail. Someone has to act as bailor to guarantee that the released person will turn up in court to answer charges. Thus, the bail bond is a document issued by the police that says that they person is released and that he is to appear on a certain date at a specified court to answer charges.

The bail bond issued to Sinclair and I stated that we are to appear on January 10, 2014 but the column that is supposed to say which court we are to appear is left blank.   I showed the inspector the bail bond that he had just issued to me and asked him, “Pada 10 Januari, saya mesti pergi ke mana?” (On 10 January, where am I supposed to go to?”)

He looked at the document for a while and said “Errr …..”

Then I said, “Borang ini kata mahkamah. Saya mesti pergi ke mahkamah apa?” (This form mentions a court. Which court am I supposed to go to?)

Scratching his head, again the inspector said, “Errr ….”

“Mahkamah Shah Alam, kah?” (Shah Alam Court?), I volunteered.

“Ah, ya .. ya! Mahkamah Shah Alam” (Ah, yes, yes, Shah Alam Court), he answered.

“Betul, kah?” (Is that right?), I said.

Then the poor inspector stared at the blank space in the document. Finally, he answered, “You pergi ke pejabat JAIS dan jumpa mereka dulu” (You go to JAIS office and see them first).

“Selepas itu, saya pergi ke mana? Mahkamah Shah Alam?” (After that, where should I go? Shah Alam court?) I queried him again.

“Ya, ya, Mahkamah Shah Alam” (Yes, yes, Shah Alam court).

“Tapi ini tidak kata Makhamah Shah Alam” (But this does not say Shah Alam court) I pressed him further.

“Saya tak tahu. You pergi jumpa JAIS dan minta mereka, lah” (I don’t know. You go to see JAIS and ask them), answered the inspector.

Having had my fun with him, I decided that its time to let him go. At 4.30 pm, we walked out of the Damansara Utama Police Station to the crowd of waiting reporters.

The Arrest, Part I

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Selangor is Malaysia’s most progressive state. It is the place people from all over the country migrate to for education and jobs. We suffer from over-population, traffic jams and water shortage. Selangor also has a law which says that it is an offence for non-Muslims to use a number of words which belong to Islam. At the top of the list of over thirty words is the word Allah.

The Malay bible used by Malay-speaking Christians uses the word Allah for the generic noun “god.” Thus, the first verse of the Bible “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”  (Genesis 1:1) in the Malay version has the word Allah. It so happens that the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), the publisher and distributor of the Malay bible, has its offices in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Thus, on January 2, Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor (JAIS) raided BSM’s office.

At 2.10 pm, after spending about 30 minutes in BSM offices, the JAIS party seized over 300 copies of the Malay bible, the Iban bible and the Indonesian bible. The leader of the raiding party turned to Sinclair and me and said “You, Lee, and you, Wong, I arrest you. You have to come with me to the police station.”

We were then taken in the JAIS official car to the Damansara Utama Police Station. We arrived at the police station in 5 minutes as the station was across the highway from BSM’s office. Upon entering the lobby of the police station, the JAIS fellows told Sinclair and me to sit down at some chairs for visitors. The leader of the JAIS party and another man went to the counter of the police station and proceeded to fill out, I think, a police report of the incident.

Before my seat could get warm, a young Indian man walked through the door. He looked at me and asked if we were from BSM. I said we were and he introduced himself as a reporter from The Malaysian Insider, an internet news portal. He said that news of the raid and our arrest is already up in the Malaysian Insider website. We gave our first interview of the incident. A few minutes later, another reporter from another paper walked in and joined the conversation.

After about 15 minutes, the JAIS party began to leave the police station. The leader of the group stopped by where we were sitting and asked whether we could come to JAIS office to see them next Monday, January 6. I said no as I got a case in court on that day. How about Tuesday, he asked. I said no as my trial continues on that day. I then said I could come on Wednesday. He replied that he would be on leave on Wednesday. Then I said how about Friday, January 10. He said that day is fine and asked us to come at 10.00 am. I said all right. He then went back to the counter to speak to the police officers. Then he walked past us and said OK, see you. You wouldn’t have guessed this was the same man who tried to kick down our door 1 hour earlier. So, by 2.30 pm, all the JAIS people had left the police station.

Before I could wonder whether I could go or not, a police constable came to us and said that the police inspector who signs the bail papers is out and he is on the way back. He said we will have to wait for the inspector to get back to sign the papers before we could be released on bail.

Let’s pause for a moment here to set the record straight. Sinclair and I were arrested by JAIS at 2.10 pm and then taken to the Police Station. While at the Police Station, we were handed over to the Police to be further detained. This is an interesting situation for lawyers to talk about. JAIS was a state body and the Police are a Federal body. So, we were arrested and detained by a State body and the custody was transferred to a Federal body which continued our detention.

(To be continued)

The Raid: Part II

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The staff at the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) were all Christians. They had left better career propsects to work at BSM as part of their religious journey to serve God and the Christian community. Their work place was quiet and devoid of excitement. Perfect for a group of mild mannered folks who looked forward each day to the handful of Christian customers who arrived as if on a pilgrimage to look for books. As the customers browsed through the shelves, they would pick out something with great anticipation, clutch it to their chest and take it to the counter  for payment. These were no mere books. These were life. These were spiritual refreshment for the journey through the wilderness.

At 1.45 pm on January 2, 2014, the threat of physical force being used against the staff persuaded me that I must yield to the insistent demands of JAIS to enter our premises. I told the leader of the group that I will let them in but not the whole group. I told him to select just a few people and I will let them in to check. He agreed and said that only five people will come in and the rest will stay outside. All of a sudden, the anger and hostility seemed to evaporate. This is what it means to surrender and this is what it means to overcome.

I told Sinclair to let them in. The men walked into our storeroom and went immediately to the tables and shelves where the books were. They asked no questions. No even a “May I?” Each man at one spot in our storeroom rummaging through boxes and piles of books. It was as if each man knew what to do. Of course, it must have been planned and at that moment we were watching its execution.

I stepped out of that room into our bookshop and made a few calls. One call was to the chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM). I said to him, “We are being raided by JAIS. Pass the word around. We don’t know who’s next.” I did not ask help as I was sure no one in the Christian community had ever encountered anything like this before to be in a position to help. I had been legal advisor for CFM and other Christian organisations years ago. I was used to helping Christians who faced problems with the authorities. Now I am on my own. I also sent text messages to my lawyer colleagues and other friends to alert the press.

Then, I returned to the storeroom and started to take some pictures with my mobile phone. There was one man seated at a table with a pile of our bibles in front of him making a list in a form. Another 2 men were beside him holding our books. Sinclair was next to them. One of them was shouting questions at Sinclair who had problems answering because the man spoke in Malay and Sinclair had trouble trying to express himself in Malay. I took a picture of them.

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One man in green batik (1st from left in image above) saw me taking the picture pointed at me and shouted, “You ambil gambar, kah? Tak boleh ambil gambar! Bagi saya phone!” (Are you taking pictures? Cannot take pictures! Give me your phone!)

He then walked towards me with his outstretched hand to take my phone away. I sucked in my gut and pulled myself as erect as possible to make me seem taller so that I could tower over him. I took one step towards him and said, “Kenapa tak boleh ambil gambar? Ini office saya. Saya ada hak ambil gambar sesiapa yang masuk office saya” (Why can’t take pictures. This is my office. I have a right to take pictures of anyone who enters my office).

At that moment, the man in blue (2nd from left in image above) who seemed to be the leader walked up between us and said to the other guy “Tak apa” (It’s all right). That seemed to pacify the other guy who then walked back to where Sinclair was and resumed his shouting at Sinclair. I then turned to the leader and told him, “Please ask your friend to behave. We are all Malaysians. We are not enemies. If he has any questions, please tell him to ask politely and we will answer him.”

The leader said “Okay, okay” and then went to speak to his aggressive colleague. Then he came over to me with a copy of the Al-Kitab in his hand. He opened the bible to the title page. He pointed to the words “Bible Society of Malaysia” at the bottom of the page and asked me if we are the Bible Society. I said we are. He then asked if we published the bible, I said yes. He then walked away.

A few minutes later, the men started to load some boxes of bibles onto a cart and took it outside to load into a van. The leader pointed at me and said “You, Lee” and then pointing at Sinclair, “You, Wong, I arrest you. You must come with me to the police station.”

(Next: The Arrest)

Updates: Bibles to be Returned – Another Promise?

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March 20, 2014: In the Malay Mail Online today (article here) , Sallehin Mukhyi, a member of the State EXCO of the Selangor State government said as follows:

“Attorney-General (A-G) Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail is now advising Jais on two matters — whether to press charges against BSM for using the word “Allah” in the 300 Malay-and Iban-language bibles and whether the books should be returned to them.

“From what I understand, there is a possibility that most of the bibles will be returned to them (BSM)… Jais may keep a few for the purpose of further investigation,”

I was immediately contacted by reporters asking me whether the Bibles have been returned. The answer is No. I do not want to take whatever Sallehin says seriously.

In my previous post dated March 13, 2014, I commented on Sallehin’s press statement made on February 10, 2014 where he said JAIS had already submitted the investigation papers to the AG. I pointed out that this does not made sense as JAIS was still recording statements from staff of BSM right up to February 12, 2014. How can JAIS submit the investigation paper for decision by AG when they have not closed investigations?

Coming back to Sallehin’s statement today. Again, there are more questions than answers. For example:

  • If the bibles are related to a punishable offence, why would a substantial portion of 300 contraband articles be returned? All 300 would be needed for the prosecution in court.
  • If the matter has been referred to the AG for decision, why is JAIS still investigating?
  • What is the “further investigation” that JAIS is carrying out? Is it the alleged offence for which they raided BSM on January 2 or is it for something else?

Anyway, if one bothers to trace the news articles since January 8, there have been quite a number of promises by the Selangor State Exco that the bibles will be returned.

The Raid: Part I

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January 2, 2014 was a sleepy day. It was a Thursday, the first working day of the year. Most people had not come back to work after the Christmas and New Year holidays.

Over the Christmas season, someone had broken into the premises of the Bible Society of Malayisa (BSM) and stole some cash. As a result, it was decided that a beefing up of the security system was in order. Thus, on the morning of  January 2, a technician arrived to modify the alarm and security system. Due to the holiday period, BSM’s office and bookshop was closed for its annual stock check. As the security technician was on site, the gate to the compound as well as the metal shutters to the side door was open.

At 1.30 pm, as I was returning back from lunch in Kuala Lumpur, I got a telephone call from Grace, BSM’s office administrator. She said that there were some people from Jabatan Agama Islam Selangor (JAIS) and they wanted to come in to search our office. I told Grace that JAIS have no right to enter BSM premises and instructed her not to let them in.

I was about 5 minutes away and I immediately drove to BSM office at Damansara Kim, Petaling Jaya. As I arrived at the office , there were more cars parked around our office than usual. A police car with flashing lights was parked outside our office. The shutters to our front entrance were pulled shut. I went to the side entrance to our building and saw a crowd of about 20 Malay men inside the compound. They were two police constables standing on the road outside watching.

I walked through the crowd to our side entrance. What I saw shocked me. The glass door was ajar. From the inside, our office manager Sinclair and another staff were trying to push the door shut. On the outside, three of the men had their feet in the door and were trying to pushing the door open. I pointed to Sinclair and told him to close the door. Immediately, the men surrounded me, someone grabbed my arm, another placed his palm on my chest, I heard someone say in Malay, “Siapa awak? Mengapa you suruh dia tutup pintu?” (Who are you? Why did you tell him to shut the door?)

I said to them, “Saya pengerusi. In pejabat saya. Siapa awak?” (I’m the chairman. This is my office. Who are you?)

In front of me was a middle-aged man. He was short and stocky with short curly hair, wore metal rimmed glasses and was dressed in a blue batik shirt. He said, “Kami dari JAIS. Kami datang nak siasat ada bahan-bahan mengguna kalimah Allah.” (We are from JAIS. We are here to check whether there are materials using the word Allah)

“We have Malay Bibles that use the word Allah but they are approved by KDN” (Kementerian Dalam Negeri or Home Affairs Ministry of the Malaysian Government). Our Bibles are also allowed by the Government under the Ten Points,” I said.

The man, who by now clearly seem to be the leader and spokesman of the group, replied, “That is another matter. We are here under the laws of Selangor state. We have powers to check whether you have any books that use the word Allah.”

I then shouted to Sinclair who was still pushing at the door to prevent the group from coming in, “Give me a copy of the Al-Kitab.” Sinclair handed me a copy through the crack in the door.

I showed the bible to the man, “This is the Al-Kitab. See the cover, it has the cross and the words “Christian Publication” marked on it as required by KDN.”

Turning to the first page of Genesis, I said “See, this book has the word Allah. It is all over the book. There is no need for you to come in and check. I can tell you that this book uses the word Allah.”

The man replied, “We still want to come in and check whether there are other books with the word Allah.”

“We have more copies of this book inside. I can tell you what you want to know. There is no need to come inside.”

He still inststed on coming in. I then asked him to check with KDN and that they will tell him that our bibles are all approved and allowed to be imported into Malaysia. He said that is the federal government but he is acting under state law and he has power to check. And so the argument went on. To everything I said, he had an answer. And vice versa.

All the time, Sinclair and another staff were pushing the door from the inside and this group of men were pushing from the outside. Faces were turning red, voices were raised and the words “Buka, buka” (Open, open) kept ringing out.

I could sense the men becoming more aggressive in their tone as they spoke. I wondered what would happen when the inevitable happened. Sheer brute strength and numbers would eventually force open our door. What then would they do to my staff inside? At that moment, the safety of people became more important to me than books. After all, in the past ten years I had served as President of BSM, I had seen our malay bibles seized and confiscated numerous times. On the last occasion a few years ago, an entire consignment was seized and then stamped and serialised. Except for coming face to face with brute naked force, this was nothing new.

(To be continued …. )

Recollections: ARREST OF CHRISTIANS – Another chequered history (Part II)

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In the roll call of Christians arrested in Malaysia for their faith, women were not exempted. Neither were the lawyers representing them.

Azie

Tongiah bte Jumali, known as Azie to her friends, converted to Christianity, was baptised and joined in a church somewhere in Johor. She fell in love with Wong Yen Fooi, a church member, and both of them decided to get married.

Aware of the obstacles they would face, Azie and Wong decided to go to Singapore to be married. They obtained a certificate of marriage from Singapore. Upon their return to Malaysia, they applied to the Registry of Civil Marriages for re-registration of their foreign marriage. It took a year but eventually a Malaysian certificate of marriage was also issued to Azie and Wong.

They then moved to Johor Bahru and set up house in a suburb outside of Johor Bahru. One night in 1997, enforcement officers from Jabatan Agama Islam Johor (JAIJ) forced their way into their home. Azie was arrested by JAIJ and taken to a police station. At the end of one week, Azie was released on bail and was charged in the Syariah Court for khalwat.

Khalwat is the Islamic offence of “close proximity” to cover extra-marital sex by unmarried Muslim couples. Why was Azie charged for something like that? Very simple. JAIJ refused to recognise Azie’s conversion out of Islam. They also refused to recognise her marriage to Wong. As far as they were concerned, Azie and Wong were not married to each other. Therefore, Azie’s cohabitation with Wong was illicit and a breach of Islamic regulations.

I filed a civil suit for Azie and Wong in the High Court in Muar, Johor claiming for damages for wrongful arrest and imprisonment for Azie and damages for loss of consortium for Wong. Their suit was founded on the state and federal government’s violation of Azie’s constitutional right to embrace any religion of her choice under Article 11 of the Constitution.

The suit was thrown out in 2003 by Justice Jeffrey Tan on the technical objection raised by JAIJ that the issue of whether a Muslim had converted out of Islam or not fell under the jurisdiction of the Syariah Court and thus the High Court had no powers to hear the case. Her appeal to the Court of Appeal was similarly dismissed in 2008. The khalwat charge against Azie in the Syariah Court was never proceeded with up to this day.

Azie has 2 children from her marriage to Wong. It was a nightmare each time to register her newly born children as non-Muslims. I have not seen them for over 10 years and I pray that God is taking good care of them.

The Nor’ Aishah case

Nor’ Aishah binti Bokhari, came from the small town of Batu Pahat in Johor. She worked as an executive in Citibank, Kuala Lumpur and she fell in love with her colleague, Arnold Lee, a Roman Catholic of mixed Chinese and Portuguese parentage. They decided to marry. In most cases, the non-Muslim would convert to Islam in order to marry the Muslim partner. However, Nor’ Aishah decided to follow the faith of her intended husband.

Nor’ Aishah’s parents were extremely upset about her plans to convert to Christianity and to marry Arnold. A family meeting was arranged at the office of her lawyer, Mr Leonard Teoh. At the appointed time, Nor’ Aishah together with Arnold Lee and their lawyer, Leonard Teoh, waited outside the front entrance of the AMODA Building at Jalan Imbi, Kuala Lumpur. Nor’ Aishah saw her parents approaching. As she walked out to meet them, a car swerved in and stopped beside her. Some men jumped out and bundled Nor’ Aishah into the car. Some police constables then appeared out of nowhere and stopped Arnold and Leonard from interfering with the abduction.

Nor’ Aishah was taken to her uncle’s house in Bandar Sunway. Her uncle was the police chief at the Dang Wangi Police Station. Soon after that, she was taken in a car to her parents’ home in Batu Pahat and locked up against her will.

A few days later, Leonard Teoh asked me to take legal action to free Nor’ Aishah. However, I asked Leonard how can I be appointed by someone whom I have never met or talked to? A few days later, Leonard and Arnold came to see me. Arnold said he managed to call Nor’ Aishah and she had left a message for me. He held up his mobile phone and I heard this recording: “I appoint Mr Lee Min Choon as my lawyer to represent me in an application to court to free me.”

With this, I filed an application for a Writ of Habeas Corpus in Nor’ Aishah’s name. I cited her parents and her uncle as defendants. Very soon, we were in court. As with most court cases in those days, there were postponements to enable the defendants to file their reply.

On the fortieth day of her detention, Nor’ Aishah managed to escape from her parent’s home. Arnold was waiting in a car outside. They fled to Singapore and from there caught a flight out to an unknown destination. Nor’ Aishah’s parents promptly reported that Nor’ Aishah had been kidnapped by Arnold Lee.

A few days later, Leonard was arrested by the police and taken to the Batu Pahat Police Station as the kidnap report was lodged there and investigations were being carried out by officers from that police station. The next day, Leonard was produced before the Magistrate in Batu Pahat who ordered Leonard to be detained for four days to facilitate police investigations.

I then wrote to the High Court in Johor Bahru complaining that Leonard had been wrongly detained. Leonard was Nor’ Aishah’s lawyer. How can a lawyer be suspected of kidnapping his own client? I asked the High Court to exercise its powers of revision to overturn the Magistrate’s order and to free Leonard.

A few days later, I got a call from the court at 11.30 am informing me that the Judge will hear my application for revision at 2.30 pm. I told the registrar that there is no way I can get from Kuala Lumpur to Johor Bahru by 2.30 pm. The registrar answered that the Judge was free to hear my application only on that day and only between 2.30-4.00 pm. In spite of the impossible task, I told the registrar that I will be there. I called my friend, Tan Poh Lai, a lawyer in Johor Bahru and asked her to attend court for me at 2.30 pm to delay the start of the case and if it was not possible, to do whatever she can to argue the case. Poh Lai, a former deputy public prosecutor, is the youngest daughter of the late opposition leader, Dr Tan Chee Khoon.

I walked into court at 3.00 pm and saw Poh Lai in the midst of arguments before Justice Abdul Malik Ishak. It was a magnificent struggle by Poh Lai given the circumstances and I saw no need to intervene. At 3.30 pm, the Judge decided that there was no justification for him to revise the Magistrate’s order.

The next day, we were at Batu Pahat Magistrate’s Court as Leonard’s 4-day detention expires that day. If the police wanted to detain him further, they would have to produce him before the Magistrate to obtain a further order for detention. We waited the whole day for Leonard to appear. The Police finally brought him to court at 4.00 pm. The Police requested for another ten days of detention. Poh Lai again led the arguments. At the end of the day, the Magistrate compromised. He ordered a detention of 7 days.

Three days later, I got a call from Leonard that he had been released by the Police. Leonard was never charged for kidnapping Nor’ Aishah.

This was the only case I have ever done where I never met or spoke with my client. Rumour has it that the couple eventually married and settled down in a Western country. They will never return to Malaysia. God bless you, Nor’ Aishah and Arnold, wherever you are.