Malaysian Catholic weekly in ‘Allah’ controversy still waiting on license renewal


A Catholic weekly in Malaysia involved in a controversy with the government over its use of the word "Allah" has not yet been granted its publishing license for next year.

While the weekly’s editor said there is no indication the license will be renewed, a government official blamed an application backlog for the delay.

Publishers in Malaysia are required to obtain annual permits from the government, a policy that has been criticized for infringing on the freedom of the press.  Members of minority religions have also complained that they do not enjoy full freedom of religion, despite such guarantees in the nation’s constitution.

For the past year The Herald, the main Catholic weekly in Malaysia, has been in a court dispute with the government over its use of the word "Allah" as a Malay translation for the word "God." The government argued the usage would confuse Muslims while the newspaper insisted it uses the word "Allah" as it has been used for centuries in the Malay language.

According to the Associated Press, Herald editor Father Lawrence Andrew said Malaysia’s Home Ministry has not renewed the paper’s license, though it submitted an application months ago.

"If they want to delay it like that, it doesn't give me any indication that it (the license renewal) will happen," Father Andrew said in a telephone interview, the Associated Press reports.

Speaking to Reuters, he said: "The Catholic Herald's 'Allah' is seen as a threat to national security."

"We are now a scapegoat, a means for the Malay-Muslims to rally together."

The license expires on December 31.

According to Reuters, the government insists it is still reviewing the Herald’s license and is following due process.

"Until Dec. 31, we are not going to announce anything. There is plenty of time till then. Let them wait," Deputy Home Minister Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh told Reuters.

Che Din Yusoh, an official with the Home Ministry's publishing unit, told the Associated Press that officials were backlogged by the large number of applications.

"We will issue it by the end of the month," he told the Associated Press. "There is nothing to worry about."

The Herald publishes reports in four languages:  English, Malay, Mandarin and Tamil.  It reportedly has a circulation of about 14,000.

There are more than 800,000 Catholics in Malaysia, among an overall population of 27 million.

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