Five of seven Christians arrested in December and January for alleged "cult" activities and detained under Brunei's Internal Security Act have been released. It was not known if any conditions were attached to their release, which occurred during the week of February 12, but they were reportedly told not to leave the country or talk about their detention, according to a source who did not want to be identified.

Two Christians remain in detention. Two other believers called in for questioning on February 22 were released the same day.

A source close to the case said the Christians were detained because of their participation in a well-organized prayer program.

Among those released in mid February were Mohammed Fredie Chong, a retired senior police officer, who was arrested on December 18; Tokching bin Ikas, an engineer with the Health Department; Mariam Murang; Mary Cheong, a dentist; and 'Ibu' Roslin, a housewife. Tokching, Murang, Cheong and Roslin were arrested on January 30. The two Christians still being held are Malai Taufick Haji Malai Mashor and Yunus Murang, who was visiting Taufick at the time of their December 17 arrest.

Mariam Murang (the sister of Yunus), Cheong, and Roslin are reported to be in good spirits, despite their ordeal. While imprisoned, Cheong and Roslin fasted, prayed and sang "like Paul and Silas," a friend reported, a reference to chapter 16 of the New Testament book, "The Acts of the Apostles." Concerned prison guards asked them how they could be strong without eating.

"You people are strange. Instead of being sad, you sing," a guard is reported to have said.

Just after midnight on December 17, about 50 police officers surrounded Taufick's house in Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital city of Brunei. Identifying themselves as officers from the Internal Security Department (ISD), they conducted a thorough search and took away three bags of "incriminating evidence": Bibles, Christian literature, audio "testimony" tapes and other Christianity-related items. They then arrested Taufick and Yunus Murang.

Yunus Murang, a civil servant attached to the Health Department, was initially accused of evangelism of Muslims in Brunei. But after ISD officers went through documents discovered in his briefcase on the night of his arrest, they detained Murang for alleged participation in religious cult activities. He has since been charged with smuggling Indonesian Bibles into the country and given a two-year prison sentence, which authorities said can be appealed as early as April.

Taufick and Chong were reportedly offered Islamic rehabilitation, as both are Muslim converts to Christianity.

A December 24 article in the Sunday Express, a Brunei daily newspaper, closely linked the Christians and their "alleged cult activities" to the Borneo Evangelical Church (Sidang Injil Borneo, or SIB), an evangelical denomination from the East Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak.

But leaders of the SIB told Compass that the article was misleading. As members since 1984 of the National Evangelical Fellowship of Malaysia, the SIB could not in any way be categorized as a cult, the leaders said.

Islam is the state religion in Brunei, a Southeast Asian nation on the northern coast of the island of Borneo. It is bordered on its landward side by the Malaysian state of Sarawak.

Related Elsewhere

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."

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