Brunei Christians Face Government Intimidation

Thursday, July 5, 2001

Three Believers Remain Imprisoned and Dozens are Interrogated
by Jeff Taylor

LOS ANGELES, July 5 (Compass) -- Officers from Brunei's Internal Security Department (ISD) have questioned indigenous church leaders during the last few months about an organized prayer program authorities are concerned is a threat to the stability of the Southeast Asian Muslim sultanate.

"Everyone who is in any sort of leadership position in the indigenous church -- youth, Sunday school, church council -- has been called up for interrogation," said a source close to the situation.

"They were summoned to the capital, Bandar Seri Begawan, and each person would be interrogated by about 15 officers from the ISD," the source said. "However, the officers seemed satisfied with their answers and, in fact, encouraged the indigenous believers to carry on in their good work."

Seven Christians were arrested in December and January for alleged "cult" activities, and materials describing a systemic prayer program for the country were reportedly discovered in possession of one of the believers. Since then, indigenous and non-indigenous Christians have been questioned by authorities, who fear evangelism among the country's predominately Muslim population could disturb religious harmony.

Christians involved in the prayer program have faced the most difficulty.

"They have had to explain the terminology that was used in the documents found and that it was not a program to overthrow the government," the source said.

A March 26 article in Malaysia's "The Sun" newspaper carried an Agence France Press report that accused the arrested Christians of "trying to spread Christianity in the sultanate." The article quoted an ISD officer as saying the Christians' activities were "aimed to deviate the belief of the Muslim population by deceptive means."

The "Borneo Bulletin" repeated on March 22 a Radio Television Brunei report that said the Christians "were found to have made secret plans to mislead many Muslims from their faith through lies."

It is not known exactly how many church leaders have been questioned, but media reports and local church sources have cited numbers ranging from 12 to 100.

Three of the seven Christians arrested -- Malai Taufick Haji Malai Mashor, Mohammed Fredie Chong Abdullah and Yunus Murang -- remain imprisoned, according to church sources. Taufick and Chong are Muslim converts to Christianity. Yunus Murang was sentenced to two years in prison for illegally importing and possessing Indonesian Bibles.

Taufick's wife, who asked that her name and location outside Brunei remain undisclosed, told Compass that Taufick's eldest son from his first Muslim marriage had tried to contact her via her parents in East Malaysia. Taufick had reportedly given his son her parents' phone number.

The son said he was the only one in the family permitted to visit Taufick in prison -- once a week on Thursday. Taufick was reported to be very concerned about his wife and their four children and had asked the son to try to find out about them. Taufick's son left a phone number where he could be contacted, but friends and relatives of Taufick's wife, fearing entrapment, advised her against contacting the son. There has been no further word from the son after a return message that she and the children are well.

"The fact that Taufick is still in prison is, in a way, encouraging," a source told Compass. "It means that he has not renounced his faith. Continue to pray for him."

Compass sources believe that Fredie Chong's wife, a Muslim and high police official, prefers that Chong remain in detention until he returns to Islam.

Yunus Murang is reported to be content to remain in prison as no known appeal of his two-year sentence has been filed. He is not being mistreated and apparently has had opportunities to talk about his Christian faith.

Amnesty International's website lists the three detained Christians as prisoners of conscience being held for "peacefully exercising their right to freedom of religion as enshrined in the international human rights standards and the Brunei Constitution."

Copyright 2001, Compass News Direct. Used with Permission.