PUTRAJAYA, Aug 22 — The Catholic Church argued in the Court of Appeal here today that it is illogical to prohibit its newspaper from using the word “Allah” when Putrajaya had allowed shipments of Malay-language bibles containing the Arabic word in 2011.
Lawyer Porres Royan said the Cabinet 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.
“If the Cabinet allowed the use of the word by Christian communities in bibles, it must follow that the word can be used in a newspaper,” Porres told the court.
“You cannot have the word used in a Bible, but not a publication,” he added.
Porres also stressed that the Cabinet, under Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak, had stated that its 10-point solution was to resolve the blockade of Bahasa Malaysia and Bahasa Indonesia bibles, as well as “other religious issues... and Christian materials”.
“For that reason, there’s no controversy between the parties. The appeal, therefore, we ask to be struck out,” said Porres.
Putrajaya is appealing the 2009 landmark High Court judgment that allowed the Catholic Church’s weekly paper, Herald, to use the word “Allah” in reference to God, ruling that the Arabic word was not exclusive to Muslims.
The Catholic Church, however, is applying to strike out the federal government’s appeal.
About 200 protesters from Muslim groups, including Malay rights lobby Perkasa, rallied outside the courthouse today from as early as 8am while the courtroom inside was packed.
Suzanna Atan, senior federal counsel for the government, insisted today that the “appeal is not academic”.
“The 10-point solution is on the Bible issue,” she argued.
“The case before this court is on the exercise of the minister’s discretion on the Printing and Presses Publications Act (PPPA),” she said.
Mubashir Mansor, lawyer for the Terengganu Islamic Council which is an intervenor in the appeal, argued that the Catholic Church was relying on “inadmissible” facts as the 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” was prohibited.
“Any subsequent fact to the decision of the Home Ministry on 7 January 2009 is irrelevant for the purposes of the judicial review,” said Mubashir.
“The prime minister’s letter did not say that the Herald, which was subject to the High Court judicial review, could use the sacred word ‘Allah’,” he added.
Haniff Khatri, lawyer for the Malaysian Chinese Muslim Association, another intervenor, argued that then-Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein had submitted an affidavit, saying that the “word ‘Allah’ was not considered at all” in the Cabinet’s 10-point solution.
“It’s very clear that the Cabinet, for its intent of the issuance of the directive, was in regards to the movement of bibles from outside to inside of the country, and vice-versa,” he said.
“There is nowhere in this resolution on any directives made on the contents of the bible,” added Haniff.
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 scripture 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.
The three-man Court of Appeal Bench led by Justice Datuk Seri Abu Samah Nordin is set to make a decision on the Catholic Church’s bid to strike out Putrajaya’s appeal later this afternoon.