The Attorney General (AG) must clarify whether the Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) or its office bearers had committed any offences when the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department (Jais) seized 300 copies of Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia and the Iban language early this year, a lawyers’s group said.
Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen (pic, left) said although Jais conducted the raid, it was for Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail to decide on the prosecution, as the responsibility rested solely on the AG.
“It has been more than three months the raid and seizure was carried out and everyone is wondering what is the next move by the authorities,” he told The Malaysian Insider.
He said there must be a closure to the issue because non-Muslims were waiting to know the decision on the matter.
Paulsen was responding to BSM’s criticism of the Selangor government for asking the society to write to the AG’s office for the return of the seized Bibles.
The BSM claimed that the Selangor executive council had made many promises to return the Bibles, and considered the latest statement from Selangor Menteri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim as the state “washing their hands off the problem”.
“The BSM will not write to the AG,” the society said last Friday.
On January 2, a team of Jais officers and two policemen went to the BSM offices in Damansara Kim, Petaling Jaya, and carted away copies of the Bible.
Jais had relied on the Non-Islamic Religions (Control of Propagation Among Muslims) Enactment 1988 which aims to control and restrict the dissemination of non-Islamic religious doctrines and beliefs among persons professing the Islamic religion.
Paulsen said the enactment provided that offenders could be charged in a civil court, but added that nothing could stop the AG, who is also the public
prosecutor, to file charges against the BSM under the Printing Presses and Publications Act and the Sedition Act.
“Alternatively, the AG must inform the BSM that there is no case against them and order Jais to return the religious books,” Paulsen said, adding that the legal opinion of the AG carried tremendous weight.
Lawyer Sivarasa Rasiah said the enactment relied by Jais was not a law where offenders are to be tried in the Shariah court.
He said under Article 145 (3) of the Federal Constitution, the AG has power to institute, conduct or discontinue any proceedings for an offence other than before a Shariah court, native court or a court martial.
“Anyway, non-Muslims cannot be compelled to appear in a religious court but under the enactment it is very clear that offenders can be charged in a magistrate’s court.
“So the AG has the authority whether to institute proceedings,” he said.
Sivarasa (pic, right), however, said the bigger issue that arose from the raid was whether the enactment was unconstitutional as far as freedom religion was concerned.
“I suspect there will be no charges that will be levelled against the BSM or its officials under the enactment as the constitutionality of the law will be opened for challenge,” said Sivarasa who is also a federal lawmaker.
Soon after the raid, the Malaysian Bar president Christopher Leong said Jais had no powers to regulate other faiths and any encroachment was unconstitutional.
Lawyer Fahri Azzat said the “pandora box” would be opened should the BSM or its offcials be charged under the enactment, where the right on freedom of religion could be open to scrutiny by the judiciary.
“The law passed by the state assembly has been in existence for about 25 years but the raid could pave the way for constitutional challenge. But for this to happen, a charge must be framed,” he said.
Fahri suggested that the BSM file a judicial review to challenge the confiscation of the Bibles on grounds the exercise was unconstitutional , illegal, irrational and tainted with bad faith.
“They should ask for Bibles to be returned. The seizure of books belonging to Christians by a Muslim religious enforcement agency is plain stupid,” he said.
Fahri added that further holding on to the Bibles for another three months without a solution had created a lot of unwarranted tension and religious animosity.
He said the seizure was contrary to the 10-point solution agreed by Putrajaya to allow the importation and printing of Bibles. – April 7, 2014.
BY V. ANBALAGAN, The Malaysian Insider