Sarawak lawmaker lauds Putrajaya decision to drop ‘Allah’ appeal

Malay Mail
Malay Mail

KUCHING, May 15 — Sarawak assemblyman Baru Bian tonight said the withdrawal of an appeal by the Malaysian government regarding the usage of the word “Allah” offers a resolution in the interest of peace and harmony in the country.

He said it also offers a resolution for mutual respect for adherents of other religions who for centuries and over many generations have used the word “Allah” in their worship and their holy books.

“We, therefore, applaud the federal government’s decision to discontinue their appeal and hope that all parties will respect the decision taken,” the Ba’Kelalan assemblyman said in a statement.

He was responding to the notice of discontinuance filed by the federal Attorney-General’s Chambers (AGC) on behalf of the home minister and the Malaysian government to withdraw the appeal against the High Court’s 2021 decision that quashed a government ban on the use of the word “Allah” in all Christian publications in Malaysia.

Baru, who is also Parti Sarawak Bersatu (PSB) secretary-general, said the Printing Press and Publications Act 1988 (PPPA) did not authorise the banning of words.

He also said the Federal Constitution guaranteed Christians the freedom to profess and practise their religion, except where it involves the carrying out of “any act contrary to any general law relating to public order, public health or morality.”

He said in her judgment on the Allah issue, Justice Datuk Nor Bee had said that the Home Ministry exceeded its powers with the order, and said such a prohibition was against the constitution.

“She ruled that there is no such power to restrict religious freedom under Article 11. Religious freedom is absolutely protected even in times of threat to public order,” he said.

Baru noted that several state enactments in Peninsular Malaysia prohibit the use of “Allah” by non-Muslims in the practice of their religion.

“However, it must be noted that there is no power given to the states to do so under the Constitution, which only allows states to control or restrict the propagation of other religions to Muslims.

“If these states insist that the ban on the use of ‘Allah’ is constitutional, they can attempt to enforce their enactments and deal with the consequent challenges. It is not for federal government to do so under the PPPA,” he said.

He said the Federal Constitution’s freedom of religion applied to all the states in Malaysia.

“Therefore, the proposed solutions that suggested the ban would only apply to Peninsular Malaysia are unconstitutional and unworkable,” Baru, who is also a practising lawyer, said.

He said freedom of religion and the use of the word “Allah” for Sabah and Sarawak is provided for under the Malaysian Agreement 1963.

The appeal by the home minister and the Malaysian government was initially scheduled for case management on May 19, but will no longer be brought up in court as the government has dropped the entire appeal.

The Malaysian government’s appeal withdrawal marks the end of a 15-year-long legal saga, which began when the government seized a Sarawak Bumiputera’s eight educational compact discs (CDs) — which contained the word “Allah” and were for her own use.

On March 10, 2021, the High Court ruled in favour of the Sarawakian Christian from the Melanau tribe, Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, by granting three of the court orders which she had sought.

This includes the High Court’s declaration that a government directive issued by the Home Ministry’s publication control’s division via a circular dated December 5, 1986 is “unlawful and unconstitutional”.