KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 31 — A Sarawak native will learn in March the fate of her legal bid for recognition of her constitutional right to religion and to challenge the government’s ban of the word “Allah” in Christian publications.
Annou Xavier, the lawyer for Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, a Bumiputra Christian, said this morning that his client’s case “is fixed for decision on 22.3.2018, 2.30pm” at the Kuala Lumpur High Court.
Jill Ireland filed her lawsuit close to 10 years ago, after the Home Ministry seized eight compact discs (CDs) containing the word “Allah” meant for her personal use, at the Sepang airport upon her return from Indonesia.
Following the May 11, 2008 seizure, Jill Ireland filed for judicial review in August the same year against the home minister and the government of Malaysia.
The Kuala Lumpur High Court had in July 2014 ruled that the Home Ministry was wrong to seize the CDs and ordered the these to be returned, but did not address the constitutional points then.
Jill Ireland finally received her CDs in September 2015, pursuant to the Court of Appeal’s June 2015 directive for the Home Ministry to return the discs. However, the Court of Appeal had also sent the constitutional issues back to the High Court to be heard.
The constitutional issues in Jill Ireland’s case were heard by Kuala Lumpur High Court judge Datuk Nor Bee Ariffin on October 19 and November 15 last year.
During the hearing, Jill Ireland’s lawyers had argued that “Allah”, the Arabic word for God, is not exclusive to Islam and not a copyrighted word that non-Muslim communities cannot use. The word had been adopted into the national language Bahasa Malaysia.
The lawyers had also cited multiple Malay translations of bibles and Christian publications featuring the word “Allah” to as early as 1629 as proof of the Bahasa Malaysia-speaking Christians’ historical and generations-long use of the word, arguing that the use of the word was integral to their religion.
Jill Ireland is seeking several 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 government had used the 1986 circular to justify its 2008 seizure of Jill Ireland’s CDs.