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CIJ criticises seizure of Bibles in Kuching

(CIJ/IFEX) - 6 November 2009 - The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) opposes the recent confiscation of Bibles in the Indonesian language (Bahasa Indonesia) in Kuching, Sarawak, because they used the term "Allah" for "God" in the text. The confiscation is another example of abuse of the Printing Presses and Publication Act (PPPA) 1987 to control public access to publications.

According to the online news site Malaysiakini, the Home Ministry confiscated 15,000 copies of the Bibles since September 2009. Under the PPPA, the Home Ministry is empowered to restrict the sale and entry of or ban publications that are deemed prejudicial to or likely to be prejudicial to "public order, morality, security, and public or national interest." Using the term "Allah" as a translation is a controversial issue in Malaysia.

The lack of definition for the conditions stipulated by the PPPA has meant that publications that challenge views propagated by the government are also targeted. Under the same law, government officials can easily ignore demands by the affected person or group to explain why actions were taken against them. Writers whose books are banned are often not informed. Publishers are vulnerable to unannounced restrictions of sales and import of titles, even if the titles have been allowed before. The public and civil society are kept in the dark as to who and what are the credentials of the people who decide for the nation what can and cannot be read. In the case of the Bibles, even non citizens as the migrant Christians from Indonesia are affected when their access to religious text is denied.

PPPA imposes a great burden on the public to seek redress when their rights are affected. The legal cases of the Sisters in Islam (SIS) challenging a ban on a book published by the group, and the Catholic weekly "Herald" challenging the prohibition on using the term "Allah", illustrate the daunting efforts in order to pursue one's rights.

The PPPA should be repealed in accordance with the protection of democratic rights, promotion of transparency and accountability. CIJ calls on the government to return the Bibles to its importers and to stop the arbitrary confiscations of publications.

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