12 August, 2008

Bolehland Warns Christian Paper to Avoid Politics

Muslim-majority Malaysia’s government has accused a Christian newspaper of breaking publication rules by running articles deemed political and insulting to Islam, and warned it of stern action, officials said yesterday.

The reprimand underscores the tenuous position of minority religions in multi ethnic Malaysia amid a growing number of interfaith disputes. Christians, Buddhists and Hindus complain that their rights are being undermined by government efforts to bolster the status of Islam, the country's official religion.

The Home Ministry sent a letter to the Herald's publishers warning that its editions in June had "committed offenses" by highlighting Malaysian politics and current affairs instead of Christian issues for which it has been given a license.

All publications and other media outlets in Malaysia are required to possess government licenses that must be renewed every year.

The letter accused the Herald of carrying an article that "could threaten public peace and national security" because it allegedly "denigrated Islamic teachings."

The Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, the Roman Catholic Church's main publication in Malaysia, denied the newspaper had overstepped its boundaries.

"We comment on issues. The Pope comments on issues. It's normal for us to have an ethical interpretation" of current events and politics, Andrew said. "I don't think we were in any way going against the type of content we have chosen."

He also denied that an article titled "America and Jihad _ Where do they stand?" had mocked Islam, saying it was an analysis of circumstances following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

The ministry's letter warned it "would not hesitate to take sterner action" if the Herald repeats its alleged offenses. It did not provide details, but a ministry official said the Herald must satisfactorily explain why it ran the articles and pledge to stick by the rules.

If the newspaper refuses, the ministry will likely suspend its publication, the official said on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to make public statements.

A representative of another Malaysian publication, the Catholic Asian News, said it also recently received a warning letter about raising political issues, but declined to elaborate.

It is the second time in a year that the Herald has faced trouble with authorities. The publication is currently embroiled in a court dispute with the government over a ban on the use of the word "Allah" as a Malay-language translation for "God."

The government has said the use of the word could confuse Muslims, while the Herald insists "Allah" has been used for centuries to mean "God" in Malay.

Dissatisfaction with court rulings over the right to leave Islam, along with religious spats such as the demolition of Hindu temples by state authorities, contributed to the government's poor performance in March elections.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

What irks me is that the government and some of its racist citizens can say anything they want against the non-Muslims but cry foul when something is mentioned about them.
If they have an open mind and accept comments, maybe they can learn a thing or two.

It is a cowardly way of avoiding issues by suspending publications. Dictators do that. They silence people.

August 13, 2008 4:47 AM  

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