Church Bodies Tell Malaysia to Stop Harassing Christians

An ecumenical fellowship group, consisting of both churches and ministries, in Malaysia has reported local custom officials have seized 32 Bibles from an airline passenger after returning from Manila.

The Bibles were meant for a study group, said the Rev. Hermen Shastri, general-secretary of the Council of Churches. He said the confiscation constituted an act of harassment toward Christians.

"The Council of Churches is flabbergasted that such acts are happening in our country with such frequency and impunity," Shastri said in a statement.

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"We call upon the prime minister ... to make a clear and unequivocal statement to assure Christians in the country that they will not be subject to such harassment," he said.

The Christian Federation of Malaysia, the country's biggest church group, expressed similar sentiment on Tuesday, saying the government should stop harassing Christians.

"We have received many complaints from Christians being told to hand over religious books to custom officers at various checkpoints in the country," said Federation chairman Bishop Paul Tan Chee Ing in a statement. "Now they even want our Bibles."

The Bibles were taken from Juliana Nicholas, a Malaysian national, on Jan. 28.

On Tuesday, a Malaysian government official said customs officers were wrong to seize the Bibles and that Nicholas can go and collect them. The government is apparently hoping to placate Christian groups and other minorities who are increasingly worried about their right to worship, according to The Associated Press.

The Malaysian government had recently been embroiled in a series of religious identity cases where the plaintiffs converted to other religions from Islam. But their conversion was not legally recognized by the secular court which followed a strict Muslim interpretation that prohibits apostasy.

About 60 percent of Malaysia's population are Muslim. The remaining 40 percent are mainly Christians, Buddhists and Hindus from the minority Chinese, Indian and other communities.

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