Court allows Putrajaya’s appeal against ‘Allah’ ruling

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PUTRAJAYA, Aug 22 — The Catholic Church today failed to strike out Putrajaya’s appeal against the 2009 landmark High Court ruling that upheld Christians’ right to refer to God as “Allah”.

Court of Appeal Justice Datuk Seri Abu Samah Nordin ruled that the subject matter of the appeal was “not academic”.

“It is still a live issue,” Abu Samah said in his judgment today.

“The controversy has yet to be resolved,” he said to a packed courtroom.

With the decision, the church will have to duke it out in the courtroom with Putrajaya again next month, prolonging the over four-year-long legal tug-of-war between Muslims and Christians here over one word — Allah.

Abu Samah was heading a three-man Bench that included Justices Datuk Abdul Aziz Abdul Rahim and Datuk Rohana Yusuf.

About 200 protesters from Muslim groups, including Perkasa, rallied outside the courthouse this morning amid a light drizzle, gathering from as early as 8am.

Protesters outside the courtroom shouted “Takbir. Allahu-Akhbar” after the ruling was announced.

The Catholic Church had sued the government for violating its constitutional rights after the Home Ministry threatened to revoke the publication permit of Herald, a Catholic weekly, in 2008 for using the Arabic word “Allah” to describe God.

The 2009 High Court judgment in favour of the Catholic Church had sparked one of the worst religious attacks in the country, where a church was firebombed and other places of worship desecrated.

Mubashir Mansor, lawyer for the Terengganu Islamic Council, an intervenor in the appeal, argued earlier today that the Catholic Church was relying on “inadmissible” facts in its bid to dismiss the federal government’s appeal.

He noted that the Cabinet’s 10-point solution was only issued in 2011, two years after the Home Ministry subjected the Herald’s publication permit to the condition that the word “Allah” be prohibited.

Abu Samah noted today that the 10-point solution, communicated via a letter by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak to the Christian Federation of Malaysia on April 11, 2011, did not exist when the Kuala Lumpur High Court made its judgment in 2009.

"The letter was not part of the record," said the judge.

The three judges unanimously dismissed the Catholic Church's application with costs.

Rev Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, voiced his disappointment with the court decision today.

"The relevancy of the 10-point solution is valid because we can still use the bible. The Herald, we just quote the bible," Lawrence told reporters.

Lawyer S. Selvarajah, who is on Catholic Church's legal team, noted today that the Court of Appeal had chosen to "accept whatever" then-Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein said in his affidavit, "instead of looking at the letter ourselves".

"If a bible can use it, why not use it in a publication?" Selvarajah told reporters after the hearing today.

"We'll just prepare for the appeal on 10 September," he added.

Haniff Khatri - lawyer for the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association, another intervenor - argued earlier today that Hishammuddin, in an affidavit, had said the "word 'Allah' was not considered at all" in the Cabinet's 10-point solution.

The Catholic Church, however, argued earlier today that it was illogical to prohibit the Herald from using the word “Allah” when Putrajaya had allowed shipments of Malay-language bibles containing the Arabic word in 2011.

The Church's lead counsel, Porres Royan, had pointed out that the Cabinet had issued a 10-point solution in April 2011 that allowed bibles in Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia and in indigenous languages to be imported for the use of the Christian community in Sabah and Sarawak.

Porres also stressed that the Cabinet, in its 10-point solution, expressed its intention to resolve the blockade of Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia bible shipments, as well as "other religious issues...and Christian materials".

The Najib administration issued the 10-point solution in April 2011, ahead of the Sarawak state election, for east Malaysia to end a Home Ministry blockade of shipments of Christian holy scriptures in the Malay language.

The Cabinet, through Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jala, stated in the resolution that the large Bumiputera Christian population in Sabah and Sarawak could use their holy books in the Malay and indigenous languages.

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