The seizure by Malaysian customs officials of 32 English-language Bibles from a Christian woman who was bringing them into the country for a study group has prompted an outcry from Christians in the Muslim-majority country - writes Michele Green.
"The Council of Churches is flabbergasted that such acts are happening in our country with such frequency and impunity," said the Rev. Hermen Shastri, general secretary of the Council of Churches of Malaysia, in a 4 February statement.
"We want to state categorically that the Bible is Holy Scripture for Christians," he added. "No authority on earth should deny Christians the right to possess, read and travel with their Bibles."
A Malaysian national returning from the Philippines on 28 January attempted to bring the Bibles into the country. Customs officials took the books from her and said that they were being sent to the country's internal security publication control unit for clearance. The Royal Malaysian Customs Department later said the Bibles were confiscated to check if they had been brought into the country for commercial purposes.
About 60 percent of Malaysia's 27 million population are Muslims. Christians, Buddhists, Hindus and other minorities have in recent years complained that their religious rights are being eroded by increasingly influential Islamists in positions of authority.
"For a country that has celebrated, cultivated and sustained fifty years of religious freedom and harmonious living between all faith communities, 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," Shastri said.
The Council of Churches of Malaysia has demanded that the Bibles be released from customs and that the customs department should make an official apology.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]