A year on, Malay Bibles still stuck at port
The 5,000 Malay-language bibles remain impounded at Port Klang, despite the best efforts of the Bible Society of Malaysia to retrieve them for over a year — despite assurances from the Home Ministry’s top officials.
Its general secretary, Reverend Simon Wong, told The Malaysian Insider the society has been given conflicting instructions concerning the release of the Bibles shipped in from Indonesia and seized by customs officers on March 20 last year because they contained the word “Allah”.
BSM’s repeated attempts to clear up the confusion with the ministry helmed by Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein — who oversees the immigration and customs department — at its highest-level of command have been met with sympathy but not action, said Wong.“Apparently, politicians can’t do anything against the little Napoleons. There are these officers down there who are really powerful,” a frustrated Wong vented in a recent interview, referring to unnamed ministry officials on the ground blocking their bid to collect the Al-Kitab, as the Malay Bibles are called.
The Methodist related that the society had first appealed to the Home Ministry in March last year after it received official notice informing that its shipment of 5,100 religious books had been detained because they contained the word “Allah”, among a list of words banned to non-Muslim publications.
BSM wrote another letter on March 16 this year to remind the ministry of its appeal. It received a formal response from the ministry’s Publication Control and Al-Quran Text division three months later.
In the first of three letters issued in June this year, BSM was told its appeal was approved and instructed to collect the Bibles before June 25, otherwise “your publications will be terminated in whichever manner decided by the Ministry according to the provision of the same Act [Printing Press and Publications]”.
Wong said he was heartened by the first letter dated June 10, and made immediate arrangements to collect the books at the port on June 24.
“My staff got there and was told the Bibles cannot be released. He showed them the letter.
“Someone inside gave instructions not to release the Bibles. He said it was a mistake,” Wong recounted, adding he was in Sibu at the time the incident took place, and had to deal with the matter over the phone.
“They said they would release it when it was sent back to Indonesia,” he added.
He was puzzled and demanded a formal explanation.
The senior officer on duty, Suniranto Shukor, claimed he was under “instructions from above” not to release the shipment, but dutifully produced a letter on the spot and signed his name on the document.
In that second letter, dated June 24, the Publication Control and Al-Quran Text division stated the ministry had “made the decision to reject the import of the publication”.
But the following sentence in the same letter compounded the confusion: “You are requested to contact this office to collect the publication before 30 June 2010 to implement any related decision or present a written appeal regarding this matter. All publication…will be forfeited…after 30 June 2010.”“We were shocked. We asked for another letter since the first one said they were released. The second letter was an alarm to us. The second letter says the final decision is to tolak, reject our appeal,” Wong said.
Two days later, it received another ministry letter dated June 24, stating: “We are delighted to inform that this matter [release of the Al-Kitab] have been forwarded to the Publications Control and Al-Quran Text Division, Putrajaya for immediate action”. This time, it was signed by a Lim Beng Wah, senior private secretary to the Deputy Home Minister.
Copies of the three letters were made available to The Malaysian Insider.
Wong was and remains at a loss on what to do.
The preacher said Christian leaders and church representatives at the federal level had approached the ministry for help, but talks have not been successful to date.
The Malaysian Insider understands the last discussion was last week.
“We’re seeking proactive and constructive measures to resolve the matter,” Wong said, stressing BSM only wanted to claim to fulfil the orders placed by the churches catering to their Malay-speaking congregation.
He said most of the market was for East Malaysian Christians.
He related a similar incident involving another Christian group, the Gideons, had its shipment of 10,000 Malay-language Bibles detained in Kuching last year; but had the confiscation order lifted after Putrajaya intervened directly.
“We have a strong legal case. We have lawyers in the board. [But] Being a Christian organisation, we’re reluctant to take legal action unless we’re really forced to, like the Catholic Church was with the Herald’s case,” Wong replied when asked if BSM had considered legal action to force the release.
He said the board will be meeting tomorrow to discuss its next step, but have to consider the overall picture of the Bible Society as it may affect its other divisions.
Wong admitted that the courts may not be an effective solution to their problem.
He noted the Court of Appeal’s delay in hearing the controversial “Allah” suit, 10 months after the High Court ruled Christians have a constitution right to use the word, had impacted on their case as well.
“What can we do? We can only wait,” he sighed.