Selangor trying to ‘wash its hands’ of seized bibles, say lawyers

KUALA LUMPUR, April 3 — The Selangor government is worsening the confusion over the seizure of 300 indigenous language bibles by trying to force the federal government to resolve the state matter, lawyers critical of the decision have said.
Pointing out that while the raid was conducted in January by the Selangor Islamic Department (Jais) using a Selangor state enactment, the legal practitioners said the state was now shifting the burden to the Bible Society of Malaysia, from whom the Malay and Iban language bibles were seized, and Putrajaya.
Civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan said that even if it is accepted that the state government does not have direct control over Jais, the department is still part of the executive setup of the administration
“The Selangor government is basically washing their hands of this matter… I personally think this is irresponsible.
“At the very least they should be the bridge between Jais and BSM to try and assist them, try and solve this matter in a way that is amicable,” he told The Malay Mail Online when contacted.
Syahredzan noted that despite being largely independent of the state administration in the enforcement of Islamic law, Jais is still subject to oversight by the Selangor Islamic Council (Mais), on which the state executive councillor in charge of Islamic affairs has a seat.
He stressed that that seat on the council affords the state government, through the executive councillor, the leverage to query and pressure Jais to come to a clear decision on the matter.
“If they (Jais) are not going to charge them (BSM), then they should return these bibles. On what basis are you still keeping them? If they had not committed any offence, why keep the bibles?”
Yesterday, Mentri Besar Tan Sri Khalid Ibrahim told a press conference that the state government has decided not to interfere with the ongoing controversy, and that BSM would have to officially write to Attorney-General Tan Sri Abdul Gani Patail if it wants the holy books returned.
He said the state executive council decided that the onus falls entirely on BSM to “show their determination and desire” to recover the bibles confiscated by Jais over the use of the word “Allah” in the translations.
Human rights lawyer Andrew Khoo argued, however, that the burden rested on the state to clearly say if the raid was illegal, unlawful or in any other way improper; if so, the responsibility fell on Jais — and, by extension, the state government — to return the bibles.
“Why is it that they are trying now to pass the buck to the Attorney-General, because they were acting not under federal law but under state law?
“Jais was applying what they interpreted state laws to be as the basis for the raid, and now they shouldn’t hide behind the skirt of the Attorney-General in trying to say that if you want the bibles back, go talk to the federal government.
“If they (BSM) go to the federal government, what will they say? They will say ‘we didn’t do it, go to Jais’,” Khoo said.
The outspoken lawyer noted that by abdicating its responsibility to make Jais accountable for its actions, the Selangor state government is effectively limiting BSM to legal action as its only remedy.
Khoo said it was “shocking and tremendously disappointing” for the state to make BSM into a “legal football” by passing the matter to the A-G.
“One would have hoped that common sense would have prevailed and that Jais would have had the decency of returning the bibles, since there’s not going to be any prosecution.
“They are putting BSM in a very difficult position, because people who did the act are now denying their responsibility to account for their actions… so if you want to use the term irresponsible, it would apply to Jais,” he said.
Previously, The Malay Mail Online reported that Jais was expected to return “most” of the bibles seized in the January 2 raid, save for a few for further investigations.
The department was also said to have been in consultation with the A-G on whether to press charges against BSM over the use of the word “Allah” in the 300 bibles and whether the books should be returned to the society.
A 1988 state enactment prohibits non-Muslims from using 35 Arabic words and phrases in their faiths, including “Allah” as part of measures to control the propagation of other religions to Muslims.
Besides Selangor, nine other states have similar enactments banning non-Muslim usage of “Allah” and other Arabic words, except Sabah, Sarawak, Penang and the Federal Territories.
BSM had said that they distribute most of their Malay-language bibles to churches in Sabah and Sarawak, but also cater to Malay-speaking Christians in the peninsula, including the Orang Asli and those who come from East Malaysia.