PETALING JAYA: The High Court of Kuala Lumpur on Monday (5 May) allowed the Catholic Church to proceed with its bid to unshackle the government’s gag order prohibiting it from using the word “Allah” in its Herald-The Catholic Weekly- through a judicial review.
The government had earlier argued that the church’s application is frivolous and had urged the court to throw it out but Madam Justice Lau Bee Lan disagreed and allowed the application by the Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur, Datuk Murphy Pakiam, for leave to sue the government regarding the use of the word “Allah” to proceed.
The suit was filed against the Internal Security Minister who was previously Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi but now Syed Hamid Albar and the Federal government. The Church is now to file its application with the court for substantive hearing at a later date. The Church is represented by Porres Royan, Leonard Teoh, S. Selvarajah, and Annou Xavier while the respondents are represented by senior Federal Counsel Azizah Haji Nawawi and Suzanna Atan.
The court’s ruling was greeted with relief by a courtroom packed with nuns and supporters of the Herald and the Catholic Church as well as observers from the Sidang Injil Borneo, which is also suing the government over the prohibition of the word “Allah” in another case. Many were wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the word “HERALD”
While this is seen as a victory of sorts, it is actually a mundane court matter when someone wants to sue the government is almost invariably given the nod to go ahead without delay provided it is not a frivolous matter.
The Archbishop is asking for three reliefs. The first is for the court to declare that the government’s action in prohibiting The Herald from using the word “Allah” is illegal and null and void. The second is for a court declaration that the Archbishop as publisher of The Herald is entitled to use the word “Allah” and lastly, that the court should declare that the word “Allah” is not exclusive to the religion of Islam. At an earlier hearing, senior Federal Counsel Suzanna Atan objected to this and asked for an adjournment to provide her grounds later. She had, however, no objection to the Archbishop application for leave to ask for a judicial review by way of on Order of Certiorari to quash the respondent’s decision prohibiting the Herald from using the “Allah” word.
But she said she was objecting to the Church’s application for a stay order. Lawyers for the church agreed not to proceed for a stay order but reserved the right to apply for it at a later stage if needed.
However, when hearing resumed last week, Senior Federal Counsel Azizah Haji Nawawi came in and objected to the Certiorari application as well as to all the others. She argued that the application for declaratory reliefs is irregular as the Certiorari application should be the main one and not the other way round. The Archbishop’s lawyers argued that this does not affect the application. In Monday’s ruling, Justice Lau overruled this by allowing the application to stay but by reversing the sequence of the application.
She also submitted that the application to declare the Archbishop’s right to sue the word and that the word is not exclusive to Islam is misconceived and an abuse of court process and that the Church cannot apply their private rights to use the word in their application for a judicial review. She also argued that this is to needed expert evidence. The church’s lawyers replied that this is a matter to e argued at the substantive hearing at a later stage.
In his affidavit, the Archbishop said that is unfair, unreasonable and irrational for the government to classify and to continue to classify the use of the word “Allah” as a security issue which is purportedly causing much confusion and which threatens and endangers peace, public order and security when in fact in the thirteen years of The Herald’s publication, there has never been any untoward incident arising as a result of the use of the word “Allah” in the Herald.
“I am advised by my solicitors and verily believe that the Respondents in making the decision dated 12.2.2008 acted in breach of the rules of natural justice, procedural and substantive fairness and the duty to act fairly,’ he said.
He added that they had acted irrationally and unreasonably by prohibiting the Applicant from using the word “Allah” or directly quoting the word “Allah” from the Al-Kitab.”
In doing so, they have created a state of affairs which endangers his right to publish The Herald which serves to disseminate news and information weekly on the Catholic Church in Malaysia and elsewhere to a wide readership, Pakiam said. (By BOB TEOH/ MySinchew)