Sabah church denied documents in ‘Allah’ usage case

Sidang-Injil-BorneoKUALA LUMPUR: The High Court today dismissed a discovery application by Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) for documents which the home ministry used to support its ban on the church’s right to use the word “Allah”.

Government lawyer Shamsul Bolhassan said Justice Nor Bee Ariffin ruled that there was no necessity to make such an order in a judicial review application.

“The issue could be decided based on affidavits and available documents exhibited in the case,” Shamsul said in quoting the judge’s reason to deny the application.

Nor Bee made the decision in her chambers.

Shamsul said case management would be held on Nov 1 to fix a date to hear the merit of the case.

The Sabah church asked the court to order the government to disclose documents to support its ban on non-Muslims using the Arabic word “Allah”, but the government objected by saying such documents were “official secrets”.

SIB’s lawyer Lim Heng Seng argued that it was necessary for the government to reveal information relating to its original ban in 1986 on the word “Allah” in non-Muslim publications.

Lim said this ban was the main cause for recurring problems faced by local Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians who had been using the word “Allah” for hundreds of years.

SIB president Rev Jerry Dusing, in his discovery application, wanted a clear resolution in the matter as Christians in Sabah and Sarawak, where SIB was founded, had been using the word in their prayers, sermons, education and songs.

Shamsul argued that the documents sought by SIB fell under the Official Secrets Act 1972 (OSA).

Lim, however, argued that the “official secret” phrase used to classify certain government documents was just a convenient “label”.

“Just because the magic word ‘OSA’ is pasted on a certain document, that doesn’t make it injurious to public interest,” said Lim.

Shamsul described the church’s application for disclosure of the documents as a mere “fishing expedition”.

The church sought two sets of documents, including letters and minutes of meetings containing the reasons for the government’s 1986 “Allah” ban; documents showing confusion among Malaysians or misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians over the use of the word “Allah” in Bahasa Malaysia Christian publications; or showing threats to public order due to non-Muslims’ use of the term.

The second set of documents sought were those which granted approval to import, publish, produce, distribute or own any Christian publications with the word “Allah”.

SIB and Dusing filed the lawsuit on Dec 10, 2007, after three boxes of Malay-language Christian educational books that contained the word “Allah” were seized by the customs department at the then Low-Cost Carrier Terminal in Sepang in August 2007.

The books were returned to SIB in January 2008.

SIB, however, is seeking a declaration that it has the constitutional right to use the word in publications and for educational purposes.

The home minister had previously refused the importation of four titles of the publications.