KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 3 — After the surprise raid and seizure of Malay and Iban language bibles yesterday, several lawyers are now questioning the extent of the Selangor Islamic Religious Department’s (Jais) power to enforce a ban on “Allah” against non-Muslims in the state.

They also poured doubt on the validity and constitutionality of the Selangor Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988, which not only imposes the statewide ban, but was also used to arrest and probe two Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) officials during the raid.

Civil liberties lawyer Eric Paulsen said Jais’s move to raid and seize the bibles “clearly violates” the Federal Constitution, which guarantees all Malaysians the right to freedom of religion under Article 11.

“Basically, it’s a clear abuse of power by the Jais authority even though it was aided by the police, because clearly Jais does not have authority over non-Muslims.

“By the action of Jais threatening and entering and arresting the duo from the Bible Society, they have committed criminal offences including trespassing, unlawful arrest and false imprisonment,” the co-founder of Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) claimed.

As such, Paulsen said the police could possibly even be accused of “aiding and abetting” the religious authority.

Paulsen advised BSM to lodge a police report over yesterday’s incident, and said they could even bring the matter to court as it was “highly questionable” whether the 1988 enactment was in line with the Federal Constitution.

“If this matter is brought to court, we think there’s a good case to officially declare that provision or even the whole enactment as unconstitutional,” he said, saying that such an action could be brought on grounds of the constitutional rights to freedom of religion, freedom of speech and equal treatment under the law.

When commenting on the confiscation of the bibles in the joint raid by Jais and the police, Andrew Khoo said that it was “contrary to the letter and spirit” to the 10-point solution announced by the prime minister in 2011, which allows bibles to be distributed in the country.

Khoo, the chairman of the Bar Council’s human rights committee, also pointed to Jais’s alleged lack of authority and the infringement of the Christian community’s constitutional right to practice their faith.

“The raid is a breach of the constitutional right of Christians in Malaysia to practice and profess their faith and to be able to have access to holy scriptures printed in that language that is appropriate to them without interference from the state.

“Secondly, I think we would have to question whether or not Jais as a department has the appropriate jurisdiction and authority to launch such raids on Christian bookshops in the state of Selangor,” he told The Malay Mail Online yesterday, adding that the 1988 enactment did not mention Jais as having any authority to enforce the state law.

Even if Jais came with the police, it would not mean that it had the right to enforce the law, Khoo said, adding that it appeared to be a “bullying tactic”.

The government should provide protection to Christians to enable them to practice and profess their faith, Khoo said, saying: “The police act as guardians of the law, they serve equally to protect Muslims as well as Christians”.

Constitutional lawyer Nizam Bashir similarly noted that Jais would only have jurisdiction over Muslims and the BSM is a non-Muslim organisation.

He said Section 9 of the 1988 enactment – which prohibits a person from using a list of 35 Arabic words and phrases including “Allah” for non-Muslim religions – does not state that the ban was limited to propagation to Muslims.

“Section 9 doesn’t seem to be consistent or constitutional if you look at Article 11 (4) because Article 11 (4) seems to require propagation whereas Section 9 doesn’t seem to consider propagation.

“Without making propagation a requirement, I don’t think Section 9 is constitutional,” he said, agreeing that it could render the whole enactment unconstitutional.

Although Article 11 guarantees the freedom of religion including the right to regulate one’s faith, it is subject to Article 11 (4) where states can make laws to control the propagation of other faiths to Muslims.

Nizam asked how Jais would prove that the bibles were linked to propagation to Muslims, noting that that was the key requirement for the clause to be in accordance with the country’s supreme law.

“If they said they are taking the bibles which are in boxes, it beggars belief to some extent that they are entitled to do that in absence of any evidence that this was meant for Muslims,” he asked.

Khoo pointed out that the BSM was not even opened to the public yesterday as it was carrying out a stock check, and similarly asked: “This is clearly a Christian bookshop that was raided, there’s no attempt to hide that. Where is the propagation to a Muslim?”

Yesterday, BSM president Lee Min Choon told reporters at the Damansara police station that BSM’s Malay bibles, the Al-Kitab, are imprinted with an image of the cross and the words “Christian publication”, as required by the 10-point solution for bibles distributed in the peninsula.

The 10-point solution, which was issued by the Najib administration shortly before the Sarawak state election in 2011, allows bibles in the Malay and indigenous languages to be distributed freely without such conditions in Sabah and Sarawak.

Lee added that BSM’s customers are not just the churches in Sabah and Sarawak, but also Sabahan and Sarawakian Christians, Orang Asli churches and other Malay-speaking Christians in the peninsula.

Christians make up about 10 per cent of the Malaysian population, or 2.6 million. Almost two-thirds of them are Bumiputera and are largely based in Sabah and Sarawak, where they routinely use Bahasa Malaysia and indigenous languages in their religious practices, including describing God as “Allah” in their prayers and holy book.

Jais’ raid comes after its newly-appointed director, Ahmad Zaharin Mohd Saad, said last Thursday that letters will be sent to all churches in Selangor to ask them to comply with the Selangor 1988 enactment.