KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 16 ― The High Court today rejected a Sabah church's bid to find out why the government banned the word “Allah” in non-Muslims' publications, saying such government information is classified under the Official Secrets Act (OSA) 1972.
Lawyer Annou Xavier, who represented the Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) Sabah church, confirmed that the court had dismissed his client's application for discovery of documents.
“One of the reasons is because it is classified as Official Secrets Act (OSA), so the government has classified it as OSA and the document will not be released,” he told reporters after the decision was delivered in chambers by High Court judge Datuk Nor Bee Ariffin.
“The other reason is because the court finds it is not necessary for the documents to be disclosed under judicial review application,” he added.
Senior federal counsel Shamsul Bolhassan said the judge felt the existing evidence already submitted to the court was adequate for it to decide on the church's lawsuit against the government and Home Ministry, also noting that it felt it is for the government to declassify such information.
“The court said that it is not in a position to ask us to reveal it because it is only for the maker to declassify, not for the court,” he told reporters.
“But in this case it is only issue of discovery, so the court feels that discovery in judicial review ― these documents are not necessary. You can go by way of the evidence given as well as the documents which has been tendered, that is sufficient for the court to decide,” he added.
The SIB church had last month sought two sets of documents, including documents such as letters and meetings minutes containing the reasons for the government’s 1986 ban of the word “Allah” in non-Muslim publications; 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 was for those where the government had granted approval to import, publish, produce, distribute or own any Christian publications with the word “Allah”.
Last month, the SIB church's lead counsel Lim Heng Seng asked the courts to order the government to disclose documents showing why it had banned non-Muslims from using the Arabic word “Allah” in their publications, noting that the Home Ministry had cited its original ban in a 1986 government circular after its 2007 seizure of SIB Sabah’s Christian education materials.
Lim had argued that the initial 1986 ban was the “root” behind recurring problems faced by local Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians who have been using the word “Allah” for hundreds of years, also telling the court then there was no evidence that local Christians' use of the word “Allah” had caused public disorder.
SIB had also said the documents will be necessary to help the court decide if the government's prohibition of the use of the word “Allah” in non-Muslim publications was constitutional.
Shamsul had last month argued that the documents sought by SIB Sabah cannot be disclosed as they fall under the OSA.
Shamsul had also described the church’s application for document disclosure by the government as a “fishing expedition”, arguing that it was not relevant when it was not shown that the government’s evidence was inaccurate or false.
The court case was sparked off by the August 15, 2007 seizure of SIB Sabah’s Sunday school materials at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal airport in Sepang, with the education materials for Christian children then returned on January 28, 2008 under the condition that the front page would be stamped with a “cross” sign and the words “ Christian publication”.
SIB Sabah and its president Rev Datuk Jerry Dusing had on December 10, 2007 filed for judicial review against the home minister and government, but the case involving the former’s constitutional rights has yet to be heard on its merits.
This case will come up for case management on November 1.
* A previous version of this article contained an error which named the Home Ministry instead of the home minister as one of the respondents of the Sabah church’s lawsuit. It has since been rectified.