02/05/2008, 00.00
MALAYSIA
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Christians: The government must clearly outlaw the confiscation of religious material

Bishop Tan, president of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, is intervening today in the case of the confiscation of 32 Bibles carried out at the airport of Putrajaya by a client services employee. The authorities have apologised, and have promised to give the material back to its owner, but the Bishop is asking for more: Kuala Lumpur must issue "a directive that would ban these episodes that are contrary to religious freedom".

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - The Christian community in Malaysia is asking the political authorities to "issue a directive that would clearly ban all government agencies from confiscating, in a unilateral way, books and texts of a religious nature".  The request came today from Paul Tan Chee Ing, SJ, bishop of Meleka-Johore and president of the  Christian Federation of Malaysia (CFM).

The prelate's intervention follows the recent confiscation of 32 Bibles in English, carried out by an employee of the client office at the airport in Putrajaya.  The books were in the suitcase of a Catholic woman who had just returned from Manila, where she had bought the Bibles in order to bring them to her parish.  But the employee confiscated all of them, explaining that the material had to be looked over by the division for the control of Qur'anic publications and texts of the domestic security ministry. 

The protest of the Christian leaders was immediate.  In a press release yesterday, Herman Shastri, secretary general of the Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM), objected that the case is not an isolated one, and that similar episodes take place with "frequency and impunity". "No authority on earth should deny Christians the right to possess, read and travel with their Bibles", Shastri writes. And he adds: ". . . this latest episode is another example of how the unilateral actions of certain government agencies are undermining the government’s stated claims of protecting religious freedom in the country".

In response to the denunciation, the vice minister of domestic security, Fu Ah Kiow, has clarified that the employee acted on his own initiative, without authority and without government involvement in the incident. He then added that the Bibles will be given back to their rightful owner.

But Bishop Tan explain's that although Fu's gesture is "noteworthy", it is not sufficient. "Since when", asks the Catholic bishop, "have English Bibles become a 'security issue' in our country? . . . We have received many complaints from Christians being told to hand over religious books to custom officers at various checkpoints in the country . . . In the run-up to the National Elections, it is important for the churches to be convinced that the policy of the Barisan Nasional guarantees religious freedom and would not tolerate any actions that undermine the religious rights of all citizens of Malaysia".

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