Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Islamic groups ejected from Allah suit

Islamic groups ejected from Allah suit


By Debra Chong

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 11 – It will be a straight fight between The Herald and the Home Minister in the High Court here next month over the right to publish the word “Allah” to refer to the Christian God.

Judge Lau Bee Lan from the High Court’s Appellate and Special Powers division fixed hearing for Dec 14 after ruling in favour of the Catholic Church’s bid to strike out interveners in their challenge against the Home Minister’s ban on publishing the word” Allah” in a non-Muslim context.

Lau retracted her decision, made three months ago, to allow eight state Islamic councils and the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association (Macma) to intervene in the suit, on the basis that they were advisers to the rulers who are heads of Islam.

“The order on the 3rd of August was made on the grounds the High Court had no jurisdiction, following the order from the Federal Court,” counsel for the church, S. Selvarajah told reporters after leaving the judge’s chambers.

The Federal Court, led by Chief Justice Tun Zaki Azmi, had earlier this year made a landmark ruling barring the Selangor Islamic Council (Mais) from intervening in a dispute between the Shah Alam City Council (MBSA) and Bong Boon Chuen and 150 landowners over Islamic burial land in neighbouring Selangor.

The top court’s decision set the example for other lower courts to keep interveners out.

Selvarajah also said the issue of “justiciability” – whether the courts had the power to decide on the use of the word “Allah” – which had been raised by lawyers from the Attorney General’s Chambers representing the Home Minister, would be argued during the hearing proper.

He noted that The Herald’s annual publishing licence would expire on Dec 31.

The priest-editor of the Catholic weekly, Reverend Father Lawrence Andrew, smiled brightly at the court’s decision.

“It’s good. It’s the thing we’ve been waiting for,” a much-relieved Andrew told The Malaysian Insider. “We hope it can be settled within the year.”

The Herald, which is read by 14,000 subscribers, was first banned from publishing the word “Allah” last year.

Under threat of having its licence revoked, it filed a suit challenging the Home Minister’s ban for going against the Federal Constitution, but the dispute failed to be resolved then because its licence had expired.

It was forced to file another application earlier this year, based on the existing publishing licence.

Govt cancels Catholic paper’s 2010 permit

By Debra Chong

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 11 – The future has just grown murkier for the country’s only Catholic newspaper, which is locked in a lawsuit against the Home Minister over the right to publish the word “Allah” to mean God for Christians.

The Malaysian Insider was told that The Herald’s publishing permit for next year was retracted recently.

The weekly’s priest-editor, Reverend Father Lawrence Andrew, explained that the Catholic Church which publishes the multi-lingual weekly, had first applied for the annual licence in late July.

The Home Ministry had replied on Aug 5 and approved their application to publish in four languages: Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mandarin and Tamil, but rejected their request to add a new language, Kadazandusun.

The church received a second letter from the Home Ministry on Sept 3, which promptly retracted the approval given a month earlier even though the RM800 publishing fee had been paid up.

No reason was given for the rejection, Andrew said.

Instead, the Home Ministry ordered the church to disclose its bank accounts and send in the latest statement, which Andrew found odd.

“They are a licensing body for permits, not a commercial body,” he said.

The priest also said they were forced to put in a letter asking for a refund on the RM800 payment, which he also found strange.

He noted that the ministry should have returned the money automatically, and added that he would not follow the directive as it may indicate that the church agreed with the rejection.

Andrew said the church has enlisted the aide of Datuk Michael Chong, a special officer to the Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein and a church-going Catholic, to clear the confusing chain of events.

Chong responded promptly and told him the deputy home minister had “overturned” the decision to reject the church’s permit.

But there has been no breakthrough since then. Their last communication was yesterday, through an SMS exchange.

“We’re in limbo right now,” Andrew said.

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