KUALA LUMPUR, July 21 — The Home Ministry was wrong to detain Christian CDs which used the word ‘Allah’ to refer to God, on a point of law, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled today.
Justice Datuk Zaleha Yusof agreed with the argument put forward by the counsel for Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, the owner of the CDs at the centre of the dispute, that only the minister has discretionary powers to prohibit imports of any material seen as prejudicial to public and national interests.
“It is clear that a senior authorised officer can only withhold a publication, pending the decision of the minister. There is no provision for a minister to delegate discretionary powers to an officer,” she said, quashing the detention order.
Zaleha said the officer, Customs superintendent Suzana Muin, had overstepped her powers by deciding to permanently withhold the CDs — even with the approval of the minister — as such an order can only be made by the minister as provided for under Section 9 of the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.
The judge also ordered the ministry to return all eight CDs to Jill and for the ministry to pay RM5,000 in costs.
Zaleha, however, did not address nine other points raised in Jill’s application for judicial review.
Jill had sought declarations that it is her constitutional right to import publications in the practice of Christianity and that she is entitled to use the word “Allah”, among other matters.
The CDs were seized six years ago. On May 11, 2008, the Home Ministry confiscated eight CDs bearing the word “Allah” from Jill Ireland at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal airport in Sepang, prompting her to challenge its decisions in court.
In August the same year, the Bumiputera Christian filed for judicial review of the Home Ministry’s actions and a return of the CDs,
Counsel Philip Koh Tong Ngee, who held a watching brief on behalf of the Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism (MCCBCHST), said the decision is welcome news to minority religious groups as it gives them some assurance against arbitrary interpretations of the law by government officials.
“This means that their SOP (standard operating procedures) must be more clear and they cannot detain things without following the proper provisions,” he told journalists outside the courtroom.
“While we respect that the officers need to do their jobs, the decision means the rule of law must be respected by government officers,” he added.
Senior Federal Counsel Munahyza Mustafa said she will await instructions on whether to pursue an appeal.
Christians make up close to 10 per cent or 2.6 million of the Malaysian population of 30 million.
Almost two-thirds of them are Bumiputera and live in Sabah and Sarawak, where they routinely use Bahasa Malaysia and indigenous languages in their religious practices, including describing God as “Allah” in their prayers and holy book.
*A previous version of this story contained an error in the amount of costs to be paid. It has since been corrected.