04/28/2008, 00.00
MALAYSIA
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Catholic weekly takes government to court over use of the word "Allah"

Tomorrow is the first day in court for the lawsuit charging the federal government with violating freedom of expression and religion. The archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur is suing the authorities after the ban imposed on its newspaper against using the word "Allah". Bishop Pakiam: the law is on our side.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - The lawsuit by the archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur against the government of Malaysia has been adjourned until tomorrow, April 29. The archdiocese is claiming the right to use the word "Allah" in its Catholic weekly, the Herald. Between last December and January, the case had raised serious controversy and accusations from minorities and activists against the Malaysian authorities, who are charged with violating freedom of expression and religion.

The standoff over the use of the word "Allah" is just one more chapter in the difficulties facing the majority Muslim country, where a secular constitution is accompanied by Islamic courts charged with applying sharia. On December 10, the domestic security ministry - which oversees media permissions - had prohibited the Malay-language section of the Herald from using the word "Allah" to designate the Christian God, claiming it could be used in this way only by Muslims. Fr Andrew Lawrence, the director of the newspaper, was forced to accept the restriction, but the archdiocese decided to sue the government.

The archbishop of the capital, Murphy Pakiam, maintains that the domestic security minister and the federal government are making a mistake: "I am advised by my solicitors that I have a legal right to use the word 'Allah' in the Herald, and this legal right stems from the right to freedom of speech and expression as enshrined in Article 10 of the Federal Constitution", the archbishop explains in an article for the next issue of the Herald. Archbishop Pakiam further reports that he has been under constant pressure from the government to conform to the "directives". At the same time, numerous threats have been issued, creating a climate of "apprehension". The bishop concludes by describing as "unreasonable and irrational" the justification of the ministry, according to which the use of the word "Allah" is a "security issue which is purportedly causing much confusion and which threatens and endangers peace, public order and security". Over thirteen years of publication, he adds, no article in the Herald has ever caused any incidents.

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