The day religious officers policed another faith in MalaysiaWhat would a Christian and a lawyer of 33 years standing have to do with Islam?
In most countries, nothing. But Lee Min Choon found out last Thursday that the long arm of the Islamic religious authorities can somehow extend to people of other faiths in Malaysia, despite the Federal Constitution allowing freedom of religion.
His story is well-known now. On that day, The Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM) president was powerless to prevent 20 enforcement officers from the Selangor Islamic Religious Department (Jais) from raiding BSM's premises in search of Bibles containing the word Allah.
Despite knowing that Jais had no jurisdiction over non-Muslims, Lee was not even able to avoid arrest and instead, was taken to the police station like a common criminal. The Jais officials also seized 320 Malay and Iban language Bibles.
"Right from law school, we were taught that Islamic authorities only have jurisdiction over Muslims.
"But when I saw this bunch of thugs trying to force their way in, seizing our property and arresting me, I was utterly shocked and surprised that something like this could happen in Malaysia," he told The Malaysian Insider.
Apart from arresting Lee and taking the Bibles, Jais officials also briefly detained BSM office manager Sinclair Wong at a nearby police station before releasing both on police bail.
Jais has ordered Lee to be present at their office on January 10.
In the drama that unfolded just after 1pm that day, Lee recalled that a group of 20 Jais officers behaving like thugs tried to enter the BSM office by pushing and banging on its main door, which was closed for stock-taking.
Having little choice, he had to let them in for safety reasons.
Five Jais officers were allowed to enter, but they started ransacking and throwing around boxes containing Bibles, with utter disregard to the holy books considered sacred to Christians, Lee said.
In the interview with The Malaysian Insider, a tired-looking Lee said that although he knew his rights as a lawyer, his legal skills and knowledge went out the door on the day of the incident.
It was not too long ago that Lee sat down with federal ministers, including Datuk Seri Idris Jala, and Attorney General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail to come with the 10-point solution in April 2011.
This is despite the fact that the Malay translated Bibles using the word Allah has been in existence since 1612, almost 400 years before certain states in Malaysia, including Selangor, came up with enactments banning the use of certain words including Allah by non-Muslims.
"The 10-point solution was a result of discussions between Christian leaders including us, the Bible Society, Idris Jala and the Attorney General who sat across the table from me.
"It was agreed that the Malay Bible, Alkitab, can be distributed without restrictions in East Malaysia while for West Malaysia it must have a cross and the words 'penerbitan Christian' (Christian publication) on the cover, to which we have been complying," he said.
Lee also said that the Malay Bibles which are imported from Indonesia, go through a clearance check by the Home Ministry at Port Klang before they are released to BSM.
"All this was going on peacefully for two years until Thursday when we were raided and taken to the police station like common criminals," Lee said.
Now, he is uncertain of what is to come, and fears the repercussions of the Jais raid could be far-reaching, just like the October 14 Court of Appeal ruling, which deemed that the word Allah was exclusive to Islam.
"You could be at home spending personal time with your husband and they could kick down the door because they are looking for a book with the word Allah in it," he said.
On the court ruling, Lee said that although government ministers had come out to say that the ruling was limited to Catholic weekly Herald and was not applicable to the Alkitab, he tended to agree with lawyers who said that the ruling had a far wider effect.
"We see that happening with Jais, who seem to think that since the Court of Appeal had ruled that Allah belongs only to Muslims, any non-Muslim who uses the word is committing an offence and therefore they can act.
"So the lawyers were right, they could forsee the evil of the Court of Appeal decision," he said.
Lee said further proof of the far reaching effects of the court ruling was the raid on BSM and the arrests of Wong and himself.
"So unless something is done to address the situation, it can happen again tomorrow, Jais can kick down the door of the church today and burst into homes looking for the Alkitab. And they have the police to provide the jails to hold all those arrested," he said.
Asked if he was going to the Jais office on January 10, Lee was non-committal and said that he had not yet plan so far ahead.
But he was certain that if he did not turn up, he risked being hunted by the police.
"The police bail document states that we have to appear in court on January 10 but it does not specify which court.
"When I asked the police, they appeared not to know and in the end, they told me to refer to Jais," Lee added.
Lee also could not say what steps BSM could take to ensure there would be no repeat of Thursday's incident.
"What can we do, we are at the mercy of the system, the Court of Appeal has ruled on the Allah case and these people say the state law give them power over non-Muslims.
"Non-Muslims are not immune to actions by Jais, that is the reality now," he said.
Lee cautioned, however, that if the matter was left unresolved, BSM would also be prevented from carrying out its objective of providing Bibles as Jais might require them to furnish details of those who obtain Malay Bibles from them.
"Who would want to get Malay Bibles from us if they are going to end up on Jais' database?" he asked. – January 5, 2014.