Home minister can prohibit non-Muslim religious publications, court told

Shamsul Bolhassan.

KUALA LUMPUR: Putrajaya’s decision to restrict or prohibit non-Muslim religious educational materials that contain the word “Allah” is permissible under the Printing, Presses and Publications Act (PPPA), the High Court heard today.

Government lawyer Shamsul Bolhassan said the home minister had been given discretionary power under Section 9 (1) of the PPPA.

“Section 9 (1) is not ultra vires Article 11 (5) on freedom of religion in the Federal Constitution as the minister can impose restrictions or prohibitions on grounds of public order and national security,” he said.

Shamsul said a 1986 government directive prohibited the use of the terms “Allah, “Kaabah”, “Solat” and “Baitullah” in non-Muslim publications.

“This is to prevent misunderstanding between Muslims and non-Muslims, especially in the peninsula,” he said.

Shamsul said it was in this regard that customs officers, on May 11, 2008, seized from Jill Ireland eight CDs titled “Cara Hidup Dalam Kerajaan Allah”, “Hidup Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah” and “Ibadah Yang Benar Dalam Kerajaan Allah”, on her arrival at the then Low-Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) in Sepang.

The Melanau Christian subsequently filed for a judicial review to reclaim the CDs and to seek several declaratory reliefs.

Three years ago, the High Court ordered the home ministry to return the CDs to Ireland, but declined to issue the declarations as it was bound by a Federal Court ruling.

The following year, the Court of Appeal upheld the ruling but ordered the High Court to hear Ireland’s application for the relief sought.

She is now seeking a declaration that her constitutional right to practise her religion was violated by the imposition of a restriction or ban on the import of educational materials.

Ireland also wants a declaration that the use of the PPPA and the Customs Act 1967 to seize the CDs was an infringement on equality under the law.

Shamsul said Ireland contended that the 10-point solution which came into being on April 4, 2011, had superseded the 1986 government directive.

He said the 10-point solution was a cabinet policy decision to only resolve issues pertaining to the importation, printing, distribution and usage of the Bible in Sabah, Sarawak and the peninsula.

“The 10-point solution has in fact already settled the qualms of the applicant (Ireland) and her fellow congregation,” he said.

He said the 10-point solution had confirmed that for Sabah and Sarawak, no conditions were attached, in recognition of the large Christian community there.

He said taking into account the interests of the large Muslim community in the peninsula, Bibles in Bahasa Malaysia or Indonesia that were imported must include the words “Christian Publication”.

Shamsul said while recognising that many people travelled between Sabah and Sarawak and the peninsula, there should be no prohibition or restriction to bring along their Bibles.

He urged Justice Nor Bee Ariffin to dismiss the declaration sought by Ireland, saying it was hypothetical as she had yet to be deprived of her right.

“There is no indication that she will be deprived of her religious freedom in the near future,” he said.

Lawyer Lim Heng Seng, appearing for Ireland, in his reply to Shamsul’s submission, said the 10-point solution had replaced the 1986 directive.

“The government cannot use Section 9 of the PPPA to prohibit the use of the word ‘Allah’,” he added.