Sarawak Bibles stamped with Home Ministry seal

By Debra Chong and Sheridan Mahavera, The Malaysian Insider

KUCHING, March 18 — Thirty thousand Malay Bibles seized by Home Ministry officials from the port here were stamped today with the government’s seal without the importer’s consent despite Putrajaya’s assurance that the holy books for Sarawak Christians would be left untouched.

The move comes on the heels of an alleged defacement of a separate consignment of 5,100 Bibles shipped into Port Klang from Indonesia by the Selangor-based Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), and has caused a surge in jitteriness as Sarawakians brace for a emotive state election expected to be called next month.

Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein had defended yesterday his ministry’s stamping of 5,100 Malay-language Bibles in Port Klang with its official seal, saying it was standard protocol and not done to “deface” the Alkitab.

“As for the serial numbers on the Bibles, the reason why it was done to the specific Bibles is because they are subject to the particular seizure in Klang,” he added.

Hishammuddin’s Cabinet colleague Datuk Seri Nazri Aziz had also said the 5,100 copies in Port Klang remain illegal due to a prohibition in Selangor Islamic laws.

However, the de facto law minister had told The Malaysian Insider that the 30,000 Alkitab in Kuching could be released immediately as there was no enactment in Sarawak against the use of the term “Allah” in non-Muslim publications.

 The Sarawak importer, James Redas, told The Malaysian Insider that local Bumiputera Christians are highly upset at what they see as a desecration of their holy book and will make their feelings felt at the ballot box.

“They know what to do when the elections come,” he remarked.

Sarawak is the most culturally-diverse state in the country; but in terms of religion, about seven out of 10 people there are non-Muslim.

Yesterday, The Malaysian Insider reported that the Sarawak cargo worth RM78,000 had been left untouched after the BSM complained its Port Klang consignment had been defaced.

Today, Redas related the situation has changed.  

He received a phone call from the Home Ministry’s state director, one Julia Johari, this morning telling him Putrajaya had given explicit instructions to immediately carry out the stamping on the entire cargo of 30,000 holy books as per the conditions imposed for the release.

Alarmed, Redas said he asked the director to withhold the task while he consulted national church leaders.

However, by afternoon, he received another call that the deed had already been carried out.

He said he rushed to the ministry’s office in Jalan Satok here where the holy books had been stored since being seized from port in January, and asked for two copies as proof.