KUALA LUMPUR, May 15 — The Malaysian government has withdrawn its appeal against the High Court’s March 2021 decision, which had quashed a government ban on the use of the word “Allah” in all Christian publications in Malaysia.
Based on court records, the appeal was withdrawn through a notice of discontinuance filed on April 18.
In the notice of discontinuance filed by the Attorney General’s Chambers on behalf of the home minister and the Malaysian government, the two appellants gave notice to the Court of Appeal that they did not intend to continue with their appeal and are “discontinuing this entire appeal without order as to costs”.
The appeal was initially scheduled for case management on May 19, but will no longer be brought up in court as the government has dropped the entire appeal.
The Malaysian government’s appeal withdrawal marks the end of a 15-year-long legal saga, which began when the government seized a Sarawak Bumiputera’s eight educational compact discs (CDs) — which contained the word “Allah” and were for her own use.
On March 10, 2021, the High Court ruled in favour of the Sarawakian Christian from the Melanau tribe, Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, by granting three of the court orders which she had sought.
This includes the High Court’s declaration that a government directive issued by the Home Ministry’s publication control’s division via a circular dated December 5, 1986 is “unlawful and unconstitutional”.
The 1986 directive by the Home Ministry said the word “Allah” cannot be used in all Christian publications in Malaysia, and this was the government ban which the High Court had found to be illegal.
The two other High Court declarations are that it is Jill Ireland’s constitutional right under the Federal Constitution’s Article 3, 8, 11 and 12 to import publications (in the form of the eight CDs which the government had seized before returning them) in exercise of her rights to practise religion and right to education; and a declaration under Article 8 that Jill Ireland is guaranteed equality of all persons before the law and is protected from discrimination against citizens, on the grounds of religion in the administration of the law ― specifically the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 and Customs Act 1967.
On March 12, 2021, the Malaysian government and the home minister filed an appeal against the High Court.
With the withdrawal of the government’s appeal this April, this means that the High Court’s 2021 decision still stands, and that the government’s 1986 ban on the use of the word “Allah” in Christian publications in Malaysia remains quashed.
The word “Allah” is Arabic for God and had been adopted into the Malay language, and had been used for generations and hundreds of years by Malay-speaking Christians in the country — especially those living in Sabah and Sarawak — in the practise of their religion and professing of their faith.
Read here for Malay Mail’s summary of the High Court’s 96-page judgment to understand why the government’s 1986 ban was found to be unlawful and unconstitutional.
The High Court’s 2021 decision did not touch on theology or religious debate, but was based purely on legal and constitutional issues as well as all available evidence presented in court including historical documents — which documented the Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians’ generations-long use of the word “Allah” based on Christian publications featuring this word as early as the year 1629.