Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam has asked the Home Ministry to revoke its ban on the Bahasa Melayu section of the Herald -- The Catholic Weekly, on the ground that this permit condition constitutes a "serious violation of our constitutional freedom of expression and speech".
The prohibition on the Bahasa Melayu section was contained in a ministry letter to Pakiam on Dec 30 which approved the weekly's annual publishing permit subject to three conditions. The other two were that the weekly could only be sold in churches and that the cover must carry the words "Bacaan ini hanya untuk penganut agama Kristian sahaja" (this reading material is only for Christians).
In a letter hand-delivered to the ministry today, Pakiam, who is also the publisher of Herald, said the ministry should reconsider its decision and revoke the ban within seven days, failing which which they will seek legal redress from the court.
Earlier, at a press conference in Putrajaya, Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar declined to field questions on this matter.
Pakiam said they were "totally perplexed" over the ban pending the decision of the court concerning the use of the word "Allah".
"We are unable to see how these two matters are related. Even if the courts dismiss our application for judicial review in respect of the use of the word 'Allah' in the Herald, that has no bearing on the publication in Bahasa Malaysia," Pakiam said.
He said aside from the violation of the constitutional freedom of expression and speech, "it also prohibits and/or diminishes the rights of the citizens of this country to express themselves and communicate in the national language, in clear contravention of the spirit and intent of the National Language Act 1967".
He said the condition also serves as "a form of retribution or punishment on account of our filing of the pending judicial review proceedings in the High Court", and is thus "grossly unreasonable, irrational and illegal". He added that it also reeked of ill-will and bad faith.
He said the High Court had granted them leave to pursue the issue of whether they were entitled to use the word "Allah" in the Herald, especially in the Bahasa Malaysia segment. Therefore, they ought to be allowed to use the word until the High Court decides otherwise.
As for the other two conditions, he said they had always sold the Herald only in churches, and that there was no need to further state in the cover that the publication was only for Christians as the words "The Catholic Weekly" denoted that it was meant for Catholics.
In a separate statement, MP for Seputeh Teresa Kok urged Syed Hamid to review the decision made by the Publications and Quranic Text Control Unit, as it contravenes the Federal Constitution and creates resentment against the government.
She said the decision is unfair to those Christians who only read Bahasa Malaysia, and only worship God in the national language.