“I will not take them back because the bibles have been defaced,” James Redas Noel told The Malaysian Insider over the phone from Kuching last night.
Noel is the pointman for the local branch of global Christian group The Gideons, who shipped in the Malay bibles from Indonesia three months ago, only to have them seized, stamped and serialised with the Home Ministry’s seal.
The incident was carried out simultaneously last month, with a separate shipment of Malay bibles brought in by the Petaling Jaya-based Bible Society of Malaysia (BSM), which triggered a massive outcry from Christians nationwide just ahead of crucial state polls in Sarawak.
Noel said he was elated after getting news that the Cabinet had lifted all conditions on the import of Malay bibles to Sarawak, as announced by Datuk Seri Idris Jala in a statement last Saturday.
He related he had been on the way to collect the cargo from the state Home Ministry office when he received a call from the Kuching Ministers Fellowship saying the decision was not finalised.
Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said yesterday talks on the Alkitab issue were still ongoing despite Jala’s 10-point solution which purportedly represents the Cabinet’s decision.
“We’re still in the middle of negotiations. Nothing is finalised yet,” Hishammuddin told The Malaysian Insider in Parliament.
Noel said he is now at a loss over what to do.
“I’m disappointed with this kind of statements here and there. On my part, I’m eager to resolve this issue as soon as possible, but I don’t know who to believe anymore,” he added.
The BSM collected its two-year-old cargo worth RM70,000 from Port Klang on March 29, which it said cannot be sold and will instead be preserved as museum pieces and a reminder to future generations of Malaysian Christians of what it maintains was a deliberate and unjustified government move to deface their holy book.
The BSM is the main supplier of bibles in Peninsular Malaysia.
Noel said he was seeking advice from other clergymen, adding that he was not likely to follow in the BSM’s footsteps because Sarawak’s situation was different.
He added that he was not averse to accepting Putrajaya’s offer to pay for the marked cargo as his concern was ensuring Sarawak Christians are not deprived of their holy book.
“They want to give money, we accept, as it can pay for another shipment,” he said.
Many in the Christian-majority state of Sarawak worship in Bahasa Malaysia but the small population and informal restrictions have led to the import of the Alkitab from Indonesia.
Sarawak goes to the polls on April 16 and the Alkitab issue is expected to be campaign fodder by the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) pact which hopes to deny the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) its customary two-thirds majority in Malaysia's largest state.