MALAYSIA: BIBLES CONFISCATED AT AIRPORT

Customs officer claims Bibles must be cleared with Internal Security Ministry.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia,(Compass Direct News) – A customs officer on January 28 confiscated two boxes containing 32 Bibles at a low-cost carrier terminal from a citizen returning from a trip to the Philippines, further troubling Malaysian Christians beset by government curbs on press and religious freedoms.

Online news agency Malaysiakini reported yesterday that upon arrival at the airport, Juliana Nichols was asked to open the boxes and declare their contents. Despite producing a letter from her parish priest stating that the English Bibles were meant for use in her church, the officer told Nichols the texts needed to be cleared with the Internal Security Ministry’s Control Division of Publications and Al-Quran Texts.

When Nichols asked when the Bibles would be returned to her, the customs officer reportedly said, “It would depend on those people at the division.”

The Rev. Dr. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, said in a press statement that “the Bible is Holy Scripture for Christians” and “no authority on earth should deny Christians the right to possess, read and travel with their Bibles.” He called for the immediate release of the Bibles and an official apology from the Royal Malaysian Customs Department.

Shastri called for Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi, who is also Internal Security Minister, to make “a clear and unequivocal statement to assure Christians in the country that they will not be subject to such harassment and that their holy books will not be subject to the scrutiny of the Control Division of Publications and Al-Quran Texts of the Internal Security Ministry.”

In another strongly-worded statement issued by the chairman of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing asked, “Since when have English Bibles become a ‘security issue’ in our country?”

The federation expressed appreciation for Deputy Internal Security Minister Fu Ah Kiow taking steps to ensure that the Bibles were returned to Nichols and for stating publicly that the customs officer had no authority to seize them. The minister reportedly told the Star that instructions had been given to return the texts to Nichols.

Nevertheless, in view of the fact that this was not an isolated case, Bishop Tan called on the minister to come up with “a directive restraining all government agencies from future harassment, especially by the internal security enforcement officers.”

Other Seizures

The incident is the latest in a series of seizures of Christian publications by officers from government agencies. Earlier this year, officers from the Control Division of Publications and Al-Quran Texts seized Christian publications for children from bookstores in several states across the country because they contained illustrations of prophets deemed offensive to Muslims.

Islam shares some prophets in common with Christianity but disallows the portrayal of prophets in any form.

Following protests from the Christian community that the books were not meant for Muslims, the books have since been returned to bookstores.

Late last year, the Evangelical Church of Borneo (Sidang Injil Borneo, or SIB) filed a lawsuit against the government for disallowing it from importing six titles of Christian educational materials for children which contained the Arabic term for God, “Allah.” The consignment of books was confiscated upon arrival at the low-cost carrier terminal on August 15, 2007.

The government contended that the term “Allah” can only be used in the context of Islam lest it cause confusion among Muslims.

SIB argued that the term “Allah” predates Islam and that Malay-speaking native churches in the country have always, continuously and consistently used the term.

Counsel for the government has applied for a postponement of the court case from January 29 to sometime in May or June to allow it to prepare its response to SIB’s written submission.

Local sources indicate that the confiscated books have been returned to SIB.

Nevertheless, the church is proceeding with the case, challenging the government’s stance and maintaining that the term “Allah” can be used in all Christian religious publications.


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