Friday, December 6, 2013

Government, eight others stand in way of ‘Allah’ appeal

DECEMBER 5, 2013
UPDATED: DECEMBER 06, 2013 06:59 AM

Members of Perkasa hold a rally outside the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya on October 14, 2013 before the court ruling on the ‘Allah’ appeal. The appeal against the ruling is being blocked by the Home Ministry, along eight other respondents.— Picture by Saw Siow FengMembers of Perkasa hold a rally outside the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya on October 14, 2013 before the court ruling on the ‘Allah’ appeal. The appeal against the ruling is being blocked by the Home Ministry, along eight other respondents.— Picture by Saw Siow FengKUALA LUMPUR, Dec 5 — The Home Ministry and eight others are seeking to block the Catholic Church’s application to contest an appellate court ruling in October that barred it from using the word “Allah” in its weekly paper the Herald.
S. Selvarajah, the Catholic Church’s lawyer, confirmed this while saying that the Federal Court will hear arguments from both sides on February 24 before deciding if the appeal can proceed.
“The case is now fixed for hearing of application or of leave on February 24,” he told The Malay Mail Online today.
“It will be opposed by all nine respondents,” he said of the Catholic Church’s application, referring to the Home Ministry, the government, the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association and the Islamic councils of six states.
According to Selvarajah, the Federal Court gave the respondents two weeks to file their affidavits of opposition and fixed February 10 as the deadline for submissions.
He also confirmed that Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (DBP) — the country’s leading authority on the Malay language — has indicated that it intends to apply to be an intervener or to be a party to the court proceedings.
“I don’t think they will be able to intervene at this late stage,” Selvarajah said, saying that DBP was not represented by any lawyers today but had expressed its intention through one of the lawyers representing the state councils.
Although he expressed doubt on the likelihood of DBP’s success in applying to be an intervener, Selvarajah said they would respond after the application is filed.
The case had come up for case management before the Federal Court’s deputy registrar Nor Aziati Jaafar today, following the Catholic Church’s application on November 11 for leave to appeal against a Court of Appeal ruling.
In the Federal Court filing on November 11, the Catholic Church submitted a list of 26 questions — which revolved around the Federal Constitution, administrative law and the general conduct of the courts in deciding on the dispute — as debate on the word “Allah” continues five years after the Home Ministry’s ban on the Arabic word in the Herald’s Bahasa Malaysia section.
Among the key questions the Catholic Church asked was whether the home minister has absolute discretion to impose such a prohibition, as well as whether claims of potential threats to public order and national security are sufficient grounds to impose restrictions without being subject to a legal challenge.
On the constitutionality of the decision, the Church is asking the apex court whether the government can impose restrictions on the choice of words used in religious books, materials or publications on the grounds that “some persons of another religious group may be confused”.
The Church is seeking an answer as to whether the government’s argument of a potential confusion provides a strong enough reason to deny another religious group its constitutional rights as enshrined under the Federal Constitution.
Also being questioned is the Court of Appeal’s recent decision, in which a panel of three judges unanimously ruled against allowing the Herald to use the word “Allah”, saying that the government did not impugn on the Church’s constitutional rights in banning the use of the word.
On October 14, Justice Datuk Seri Mohamed Apandi Ali, in reading a summary of Court of Appeal judgement, said the home minister had acted well within his powers to disallow the Herald from using the word “Allah” in its Bahasa Malaysia section.
“It is our common finding that the usage of the name ‘Allah’ is not an integral part of the faith and practice of Christianity. From such finding, we find no reason why the respondent is so adamant to use the name ‘Allah’ in their weekly publication. Such usage, if allowed, will inevitably cause confusion within the community,” he said before a packed courtroom.
According to a 2010 census, Muslims are Malaysia’s largest religious group, followed by Buddhists. Christians are the third largest at 2.6 million, which comes up to about 10 per cent of the entire Malaysian population.
Bumiputera Christians, who form about 64 per cent or close to two-thirds of the Christian community in Malaysia, have used the word “Allah” when praying and speaking in the national language and their native tongues for centuries.
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