Bibles Confiscated by Customs

(Excerpt) A seizure of English bibles by Customs Department officials has left a bitter taste in the mouth of a Malaysian Christian and led the Council of Churches Malaysia to decry the increasing incidence of such acts by the authorities.

It comes on the heels of a spate of legal suits following similar seizures of Christian materials by the authorities earlier this year and late last year.

Bibles confiscated by Customs Dept

Fauwaz Abdul Aziz | Feb 4, 08 7:19pm

http://malaysiakini.com/news/77782

A seizure of English bibles by Customs Department officials has left a bitter taste in the mouth of a Malaysian Christian and led the Council of Churches Malaysia to decry the increasing incidence of such acts by the authorities.

It comes on the heels of a spate of legal suits following similar seizures of Christian materials by the authorities earlier this year and late last year.

On Jan 28, missionary Juliana Nicholas returned from a trip to the Philippines carrying with her two boxes containing 32 bibles meant for her church group.

Upon arrival at the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in Kuala Lumpur, she was told to declare and open the contents of the boxes.

Having done so – and despite showing them a letter from her parish priest stating the texts were for use by the church – Nicholas was shocked to be hear subsequently that the bibles would be “referred” to the Internal Security Ministry’s Publications and Al-Quran Texts Control Division.

Protestations that they could check the bibles there and then without the inconvenience of referring them to the ministry fell on deaf ears, said Nicholas.

“When I objected as these were English bibles, the ministry official I spoke to said, ‘Oh, we do this even with the Qurans that come through this way’. But these are not Qurans, these are English bibles!” Nicolas said when contacted.

As to when the bibles can be returned to her “would depend on those people at the division”, Nicholas said she was told further.

After a follow-up call today to the ministry, Nicholas said she was informed she could now pick up the bibles from the division office located near the airport.

Official apology needed

She insisted, however, that the ministry issue to her an official apology for the inconvenience caused and a letter of assurance that the incidence would not recur.

“They cannot allow such things to happen again. How can they do this to you?” asked an indignant Nicholas.

Echoing her demand today, Council of Churches Malaysia general secretary Dr Hermen Shastri said it should be known categorically that “the bible is Holy Scripture for Christians.”

“No authority on earth should deny Christians the right to possess, read and travel with their bibles,” he said in a statement.

“We call upon the prime minister, who is also the 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.

“For a country that has celebrated, cultivated and sustained 50 years of religious freedom and harmonious living between all faith communities, this latest episode is another example of how the unilateral actions of certain government agencies are undermining the government’s stated claims of protecting religious freedom in the country,” said Shastri.

Legal suit

Earlier this year, the Internal Security Ministry confiscated English language Christian children’s books said to contain offensive caricatures of prophets from several bookshops in three states.

Last year, a Sabah church filed a suit against the government and Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in his capacity as internal security minister for not allowing the import of Christian literature from Indonesia containing the word ‘Allah’.

Sabah Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) Church president Pastor Jerry Dusing filed the suit on behalf of the church at the Kuala Lumpur High Court on Dec 10 after six titles for their Sunday school education for children were banned from being imported.

In 2006, about 1,000 copies of bibles in Bahasa Indonesia were seized in Port Klang and had remained in Customs’ possession.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Nazri Aziz had earlier told Parliament that the government prohibited the distribution of bibles in Bahasa Malaysia.

The prime minister however stated that Bahasa Malaysia bibles are not banned but must be labeled with the words ‘Not for Muslims’.

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Church group slams Malaysian airport officials for confiscating Bibles
The Associated Press
Published: February 4, 2008
http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2008/02/04/asia/AS-GEN-Malaysia-Religious-Rights.php
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia: A church federation slammed Malaysian customs officials Monday for seizing 32 Bibles, saying the confiscation shows the Muslim-majority country is becoming less tolerant of other religions.

The Royal Malaysian Customs department said it was only trying to determine if the Bibles were imported for commercial purposes.

Custom officials at an airport in Kuala Lumpur took the Bibles from a Malaysian woman Jan. 28 on her return from the Philippines, said the Rev. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia.

The woman was told that all religious materials have to be sent to the Internal Security Ministry’s publications control unit for clearance, Shastri said, adding that he had never before heard of anyone being told to do this when bringing English-language Bibles into the country.

“It’s getting from bad to worse,” Shastri told The Associated Press. “This either points to a concerted effort to undermine the current practice of religious tolerance, or the religious enforcement authorities have been given a free hand and they are having a field day,” he said.
In a statement, the council urged authorities to release the Bibles and issue a formal apology. It also called on Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to publicly reassure Christians of their rights.

“No authority on earth should deny Christians the right to possess, read and travel with their Bibles,” the statement said.

Customs department spokesman Iskandar Jaafar denied the Bibles were confiscated because of religious intolerance.

“It’s the normal procedure” to check if so many books were being imported for commercial purposes, Jaafar said, adding that the Bibles had been sent to the Internal Security Ministry. The ministry vets publications before they can be distributed.

A ministry official said he was checking on the incident.

Malaysian law forbids proselytizing by non-Muslims, although Muslims are allowed to encourage people to convert to Islam.

Shastri said the woman was bringing the books to give to Bible study groups. He did not explain why she had to bring the books in from abroad.

Shastri noted that Malaysian officials recently seized Christian children’s books from stores — although they were later returned — and banned the word “Allah” from Malay-language Bibles and other Christian publications.

Religious issues are extremely sensitive in Malaysia, where ethnic Malay Muslims make up about 60 percent of the 27 million people. But the Constitution guarantees freedom of worship for minorities, who include Christians, Buddhists and Hindus.

One Response to “Bibles Confiscated by Customs”

  1. Ong Geok Ming Says:

    Thanks for the information. I have heard about confiscation of Malay Bibles but this is of English Bibles. Surely the officer concerned is overly enthusiastic about his duties. May his energies be channeled towards confiscating porno materials, etc. I will share this with my church to pray against this injustice.

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