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Catholic Church to challenge ‘unrealistic’ decision

Father Lawrence Andrew and Archbishop Emeritus Soter Fernandez, the retired second archbishop of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia talking to lawyers at the Court of Appeal today. — Picture by Saw Siow FengPUTRAJAYA, Oct 14 — The Catholic Church today said it would contest the Court of Appeal’s decision to overturn an earlier High Court judgment allowing its weekly publication the Herald to use the word “Allah” in its Bahasa Malaysia section.

Herald editor Father Lawrence Andrew said they cannot see how the government can reconcile its position against the use of “Allah” in the Catholic weekly, when it concurrently promised to continue to allow the Christian community to freely use, import and distribute the Malay version of the Bible, known as the al-Kitab, which uses the word extensively.

“We are greatly disappointed and dismayed by the decision of the Court of Appeal by allowing the home minister’s appeal and by setting the High Court judgement aside,” he said when met outside the court after the judgement was delivered.

Lawrence argued that there is no evidence to support the government’s claim that the use of the word “Allah” by Christians in the country is a danger to public order and safety.

He added that the appellate court’s decision was “unrealistic” as the word “Allah” has been used by the Malay-speaking congregation and indigenous groups, especially in Sabah and Sarawak, for generations.

“We have not caused disharmony. For the 18 years of Herald’s publication, we have not caused any inconveniences.

“It is also a retrograde step in the development of the law on the fundamental liberties of religious minorities in this country,” he said, referring to the Court of Appeal judgement

The Catholic Church has 30 days from now to file an application for leave at the Federal Court to appeal against today’s judgement.

Lawyer S. Selvarajah, who is acting on behalf of the Catholic Church, noted that the appellate court’s position on upholding the safety of the public and state was not applicable in this case as they have yet to see any evidence to support the claim that such a threat existed when the home ministry imposed the ban in 2008.

Selvarajah said the spate of attacks on houses of worship, which followed the High Court’s 2009 decision to allow the Herald to use the word “Allah”, was not reflective of growing public disorder as it only accounted for a small number of cases.

“We are concerned with what transpired when the decision was made,” he said, referring to the ministry’s ban on the use of the word “Allah” by the Herald.

“You cannot use what happened after the judgement to justify the decision,” he added.

Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) general secretary Rev Dr Hermen Shastri said the Court of Appeal’s judgement failed to take into account the protection of minority rights in the country, and will only make Malay-speaking Christians unsure of whether they may still use the word.

“Right now, it looks like there will be 1.6 million Christians in Sabah and Sarawak who will be confused,” he said.

The Allah case returned to the courts last September, over three years after Putrajaya filed an appeal against the Kuala Lumpur High Court’s decision in favour of allowing Catholic weekly the Herald to continue using the word “Allah” in its Bahasa Malaysia section.

The Catholic Church had in July this year moved to strike out the government’s appeal after patience ran out with the lack of progress in the government’s challenge on the decision, that has contributed to festering interfaith ties in the country.

The Allah row erupted in 2008 when the Home Ministry threatened to revoke the Herald’s newspaper permit, prompting the Catholic Church to sue the government for violating its Constitutional rights.