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. 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 was the only one in the family permitted to visit Taufick in prison — once a week on Thursday.

"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 Web site 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."

Related Elsewhere

The Times of India reports Brunei's Internal Security Act allows detention without trial.

The worldwide appeal for action for the detained Christians is online at Amnesty International.

The Borneo Bulletin is online but without archived articles more than a week.

The U.S. State Department's Annual Report on International Religious Freedom notes that Brunei's "Constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, the Government imposes some restrictions on non-Islamic faiths." For example, "proselytizing by faiths other than official Islam is not permitted."

The Brunei government Web site says that Islam plays a central role in the life of every Muslim in Brunei Darussalam.

More articles on religious freedom worldwide are available in Christianity Today's persecution area.

Previous Christianity Today articles on the Brunei detainment include:

Five Christians Released in Brunei | Two remain in detention for alleged "cult" activities—smuggling Bibles and evangelism of Muslims. (March 6, 2001)