Putrajaya’s 10-point solution overrides 1986 ‘Allah’ ban on Christian publications, court told

Lim Heng Seng, the lead counsel for Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, claimed the government's lawyer had effectively acknowledged that the 10-point solution overrode the 1986 ban. ― Picture by Choo Choy May
Lim Heng Seng, the lead counsel for Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, claimed the government's lawyer had effectively acknowledged that the 10-point solution overrode the 1986 ban. ― Picture by Choo Choy May

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 15 ― The federal government's 2011 solution dubbed the “10-Point Solution” overrides its 1986 outdated ban on the word “Allah” in Christian publications, a lawyer argued in the High Court today.

Lim Heng Seng, the lead counsel for his Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Bumiputera Christian client Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, claimed the government's lawyer had effectively acknowledged that the 10-point solution overrode the 1986 ban.

Lim also said a memo was issued by the Home Ministry's secretary-general to government officials for compliance with the 10-point solution in 2011 or risk disciplinary proceedings.

“So why do you allow the 1986 directive to hang like a sword of Damocles over Christians?” he asked.

“Obsolete, redundant, inapplicable and overridden,” he said when describing the 1986 government directive.

Lim said clarification was needed from the courts over the “redundant” 1986 government directive which he said “continues to be used”.

“Out of the blue, in Sabah, some officers took it upon themselves to visit a church and to ask them not to use the word 'Allah',” he said, citing as example a news report by Free Malaysia Today last week where Home Ministry officers were said to have inspected a Sabah church's publications for its internal use.

However, senior federal counsel Shamsul Bolhassan, who represented the home minister and government, argued that the 10-point solution was only limited to the issue of Bibles that were seized by the Home Ministry then.

“The government decided on the 10-point solution, so this 10-point solution is purely to address the impounding of Bibles at that time because tension arose. They made seizure of Bibles in 2011, so this 10-point solution was issued.

“The directive was in 1986 and if the 10-point solution is to supercede (it), it would have been mentioned,” Shamsul said, arguing that the 1986 government directive barring four words including “Allah” in Christian publications is a Cabinet decision that still stands and has yet to be revoked.

On April 11, 2011, the prime minister had confirmed a Cabinet decision called the Ten Point Solution, which among other things said bibles in all languages including Bahasa Malaysia, Bahasa Indonesia and indigenous languages such as Iban, Kadazan-Dusun can be imported and printed locally.

The solution had also said there will be no conditions for the printing and import of Bahasa Malaysia or Bahasa Indonesia bibles in Sabah and Sarawak in recognition of the large Christian community there; while the same can be done in Peninsular Malaysia if these bibles were stamped with the cross sign and the words “Christian publication”.

Jill Ireland’s lawyer Annou Xavier later disputed that the 2011 solution was confined to bibles, highlighting that the 10-point solution had also said that there will be no prohibitions or restrictions for those who bring along “bibles and Christian materials” when travelling between Sabah and Sarawak, and Peninsular Malaysia.

Earlier today, Shamsul argued that the 1986 ban does not infringe the Christian community’s rights to practice and profess their religion, as they could still import publications if stamped to indicate it was a Christian publication and as there is “nothing to stop” those in Sabah and Sarawak from using the word “Allah”.

“In fact if we were to look at the 10-point solution, it works in the applicant’s favour. There is no issue in the usage of the word ‘Allah’ in Sabah and Sarawak. That is a known fact,” he said, explaining that the 1986 ban was imposed however to avoid conflict between local Muslim and Christian communities.

He also argued among other things that the Home Minister was not discriminating Jill Ireland and the Christian community on grounds of religion, noting that the minister exercises his powers under the Printing Presses and Publications Act to ban all publications deemed to be prejudicial to public order ― including books by Muslims.

Lim later argued that the government’s concern in 1986 over Christians’ use of the word “Allah” being allegedly prejudicial to public order would no longer be valid now, saying: “In 2011 when the 10-point was issued, the fact that “Allah” was allowed to be used in the Alkitab must mean there is no issue today. The public order argument is simply without any evidential basis.”

Today is the hearing of Jill Ireland’s bid to have the courts uphold her constitutional rights, following the government’s 2008 seizure of her eight compact discs containing the word “Allah” which were for her personal use and its justification of the seizure using a 1986 ban on “Allah” in Christian publications.

Jill Ireland is seeking two court orders, including a declaration that it is her constitutional right to have access to Christian publications in the exercise of her rights to practise religion and right to education, as provided for by the Federal Constitution’s Article 11 on the freedom of religion.

The Sarawakian native of the Melanau tribe is also seeking a court declaration that the Constitution’s Article 8 guarantees her equality before the law and protection from discrimination on grounds of religion in the administration of law ― specifically the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and the Customs Act 1967.

Jill Ireland is also asking the court to declare the Home Ministry’s December 5, 1986 circular to ban the word “Allah” in Christian publications as unconstitutional and unlawful, arguing among other things that the government has failed to prove such use was a threat to public order.

The hearing before High Court judge Datuk Nor Bee Ariffin concluded today. The decision date has yet to be fixed.

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