KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysian Catholic newspaper The Herald has threatened legal action against Malaysia’s government after being told to stop publishing its Malay language edition in a row over its use of the word “Allah”, according to news agency AFP.
The Herald, circulated among the country’s 850,000 Catholics, nearly lost its publishing licence last year for using the word “Allah” as a translation for “God”, with authorities saying “Allah” should be used only by Muslims.
Murphy Pakiam, Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur and publisher of the weekly newspaper, said in a letter to the home ministry that it had seven days to revoke its decision or face legal action, reported AFP.
He said he was “totally perplexed” over the suspension which “reeks of ill will and bad faith” and was effectively a punishment for the legal battle that is due to be settled next month.
“We are therefore advised and verily believe that this condition constitutes a serious violation of our constitutional freedom of expression and speech,” he said in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.
Religion and language are sensitive issues in multi-racial Malaysia, which experienced deadly race riots in 1969.
About 60 percent of the nation’s 27 million people are ethnic Malay Muslims, who dominate the government.
The rest of the population includes indigenous tribes as well as ethnic Chinese and Indians – practising Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism, among others.
The Herald’s editor, Father Lawrence Andrew, has said that more than half Malaysia’s Catholics are from indigenous groups, most of whom live on the Borneo island states and who mainly speak Malay. n