Judgement on use of ‘Allah’ in Christian publications deferred to Aug 13

KUCHING: The Kuala Lumpur High Court has postponed to August 13, the delivery of judgment over a Bumiputera Christian’s lawsuit on her constitutional right to religion and over the government’s ban on the word ‘Allah’ in Christian publications.

The decision of the case was supposed to be made yesterday (June 13), prompting some here to speculate that the change of federal government from Barisan Nasional to Pakatan Harapan after the May 9 general election has something to do with it.

According to the Malay Mail, Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill’s lawyer Annou Xavier confirmed the change in decision date to August 13 and that postponement would enable the Attorney General’s Chambers to get new instructions on this sensitive case and also to enable parties to engage with the new people-friendly government.

The national news portal also quoted Senior Federal Counsel Shamsul Bolhassan who is representing the home minister and the government in Jill Ireland’s case as saying that both the applicants have put in representation to the home minister and “we need to get fresh instructions from the government”.

The postponement was the second time after it was deferred to yesterday from the original date March 22.

Jill Ireland filed her lawsuit about 10 years ago, after the Home Ministry seized eight compact discs (CDs) containing the word ‘Allah’ meant for her personal use, at KLIA upon her return from Indonesia.

Following the May 11, 2008 seizure, Jill Ireland filed for judicial review in August the same year against the home minister and the government of Malaysia.

The High Court had in July 2014 ruled that the Home Ministry was wrong to seize the CDs and ordered that they be returned, but did not address the constitutional points then.

Jill Ireland finally received her CDs in September 2015, pursuant to the Court of Appeal’s June 2015 directive for the Home Ministry to return the discs. However, the Court of Appeal had also sent the constitutional issues back to the High Court to be heard.

High Court judge Datuk Nor Bee Ariffin heard the constitutional issues in Jill Ireland’s case on Oct 19 and Nov 15 last year.

Jill Ireland’s lawyers had argued that ‘Allah’, the Arabic word for God, is not exclusive to Islam and not a copyrighted word that non-Muslim communities cannot use. The word had been adopted into the national language Bahasa Malaysia.

The lawyers had also cited multiple Malay translations of Bibles and Christian publications featuring the word ‘Allah’ to as early as 1629 as proof of the Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians’ historical and generations-long use of the word, arguing that the use of the word was integral to their religion.

Jill Ireland, a Melanau, is seeking several court orders, including a declaration that it is her constitutional right to have access to Christian publications in the exercise of her rights to practise religion and right to education, as provided for by the Federal Constitution’s Article 11 on the freedom of religion.

She also sought a court declaration that the Constitution’s Article 8 guarantees her equality before the law and protection from discrimination on grounds of religion in the administration of law ¯ specifically the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and the Customs Act 1967.

Jill Ireland is also asking the court to declare the Home Ministry’s December 5, 1986 circular to ban the word ‘Allah’ in Christian publications as unconstitutional and unlawful, arguing among other things that the government has failed to prove such use is a threat to public order.

The government had used the 1986 circular to justify its 2008 seizure of Jill Ireland’s CDs.

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