Court reserves judgement on HERALD’s leave application

The Federal Court has reserved judgment on the Catholic Church’s leave application to appeal against the ruling by the Court of Appeal which affirmed that the Home Minister was right to ban the use of the word Allah in a weekly publication.

Mar 14, 2014

PUTRAJAYA: The Federal Court has reserved judgment on the Catholic Church’s leave application to appeal against the ruling by the Court of Appeal which affirmed that the Home Minister was right to ban the use of the word Allah in a weekly publication.

Chief Justice Tun Arifin Zakaria adjourned ruling after hearing the parties to the leave application.

A court official said the Federal Court registry would notify parties when the judges were ready to deliver their verdict.

An unprecedented seven-man bench was convened to hear the Church’s leave application.

Sitting with Arifin were Tan Sri Raus Sharif, Tan Sri Zulkefli Ahmad Makinuddin, Tan Sri Richard Malanjum, Tan Sri Suriyadi Halim Omar, Datuk Zainun Ali and Datuk Jeffrey Tan Kok Hwa.

Leave applications and appeals are normally heard by a five-member bench.

Only on two occasions in the past had a seven-member panel been convened to hear drug trafficking cases involving important legal principles.

The Church had submitted 26 questions on the Constitution, administrative law as well as the power of the court to allow the Home Minister to ban the use of a theological word. These questions were part of the application filed by lawyers for the Church, seeking leave to appear before the Federal Court to challenge the Court of Appeal’s ruling on the Allah issue.

Lawyer Datuk Dr Cryrus Das, who appeared for the Church, said the Apex Court should hear the merits of the case because the Court of Appeal had reversed the findings of a High Court on key constitutional and administrative law issues.

“The Court of Appeal ruling had further created ambiguities on the “Allah” issue which has now affected 1.6 million Bumiputera
Christians in Sabah and Sarawak,” he added. He said ministers had made conflicting and contradictory statements following the appellate court’s ruling.

“Further, the decision has also affected minority rights of others like the Sikhs and Bahai who use the word ‘Allah’,” Das said, adding that the international community was also closely following this matter.
He said it was unclear where the minister had obtained the authority to impose the ban on the word.

“One of the Court of Appeal judges stated that the minister has absolute discretion but the court was entitled to review his decision,”
he said.

Das said Islam was the religion of the Federation but fundamental rights in the Constitution could not take a back seat.

He also said the Apex Court had to decide to what extent judges could rely on the Internet to do research in making judicial findings.

Das said the publisher of the HERALD had been using the word in the newspaper since 1995 and there was no threat to national security until the minister imposed a ban in 2009.

Another counsel for the Church, Benjamin Dawson, said Christians in this part of the region had been using the word Allah in their religious practices since 1894.

Senior Federal Counsel Suzana Atan said the minister had imposed the ban on grounds of national security and it was not done in bad faith.

“We take the position that leave must be denied as the Court of Appeal had made the decision as the minister had followed the provision in the Printing, Presses and Publications Act,” she said.

Datuk Sulaiman Abdullah, who appeared for the Terengganu Religious Council, said it was not for the court to determine issues relating to public order.

“The minister was concerned about the public repercussions if the word was allowed to be used in the HERALD,” he said, adding that the executive could not gamble on the security of the nation.
Lawyer Mubashir Mansor, representing the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor religious councils, said Allah was not an integral part of Christianity.

“The original Bible was in Hebrew and Greek. The Bahasa Malaysia text was only a translation; it could have been wrong in the use of the word ‘Allah’,” he said.

He said Allah was an Arabic word imported into Christianity.

On October 14, a three-member bench led by Datuk Seri Mohamed Apandi Ali — which allowed Putrajaya’s appeal to ban the HERALD from using the word Allah — said there was a 1986 directive by the Home Ministry that prohibited non-Muslim publications from using four words: Allah, Kaabah, Solat and Baitullah. Apandi, in his judgment, said the reason for the prohibition was to protect the sanctity of Islam and prevent any confusion among Muslims.

He also ruled that if the word was allowed to be used by Christians, it could threaten national security and public order.

Furthermore, the court said the prohibition was reasonable on grounds that the word Allah was not an integral part of the Christian faith and practice.

The decision sparked an outcry among Christians and other non-Muslims in both the peninsula and Sabah and Sarawak.

Church groups and MCA had also sent lawyers to hold a watching brief of the proceedings on Mar 5, 2014. Gan Peng Siew, a former MCA vice president, represented the party while Syahredzan Johan appeared for the Malaysian Bar Council.

Other organisations represented were the Commonwealth Law Association, Malaysian Consultative Council of Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism and Taoism, World Council of Churches, Christian Federation of Malaysia, Council of Churches Malaysia, Sidang Injil Borneo (peninsula), Sidang Injil Borneo (Sabah), Sidang Injil Borneo (Sarawak), Association of Churches of Sarawak, and Sabah Council of Churches.

Seven religious councils and the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association are together with Putrajaya in opposing the Church’s leave application. -- The Malaysian Insider

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