05 May, 2008

Herald wins first round of legal battle against 'Allah' ban order

"The court agreed that the church's application is not frivolous nor vexatious nor an abuse of process. It deserves to be heard,"

Dissatisfaction with court rulings over Muslims' legal right to leave Islam — along with other religious issues like state authorities' demolition of Hindu temples, contributed to the ruling government coalition's poor performance in March elections — when it lost its two-thirds majority in Parliament.

Malaysiakini :"The Kuala Lumpur High Court has given the Herald the right to mount a legal challenge against the government ban on the Catholic weekly in using the word ‘Allah’ in its Bahasa Malaysia section."

High Court Judge Lau Bee Lan ruled that prosecutors' objection to a lawsuit by The Herald weekly was "without merit."

The judge said she will allow the paper — the main media organ of the Catholic church in Muslim-majority Malaysia — to contest the government ban in court.

She said the appropriateness or otherwise of the remedy was to be determined at the merit stage, where the court would have to fashion the remedy to suit the particular circumstances of the case.

"For the reasons given, I find the objection of the learned senior federal counsel with regard to a declaration that the applicant is entitled to use the word "Allah" in the Herald and the word "Allah" is not exclusive to the religion of Islam, is without merit and is thereby dismissed.

"The court hereby allows the applicant's application for leave pursuant to Order 53 Rules 3(1) of The Rules of the High Court, to quash the Home Ministry's decision to prohibit them (the applicant) from using the word "Allah" in the publication," she said.

The Muslim-dominated government last year declared that the word could only be used by Muslims and threatened to close down The Herald newspaper if it defied the prohibition.

The newspaper, which features articles written in English, Chinese, Tamil and Malay, is circulated among the country's 850,000 Catholics. In January it nearly lost its publishing licence after using "Allah" in its Malay section.

Authorities warned The Herald not to print the word in future, but instead it is asking the High Court to revoke the ban and make a declaration that its use is legal.

In a separate case in Malaysia, the Sabah Evangelical Church of Borneo has also filed a lawsuit in an effort to be allowed to use "Allah" after officials last year banned the import of books containing the word. Hearings in that case were still in the preliminary stages.

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