Court decision in Bumiputera Christian’s ‘Allah’ case deferred to allow engagement

Church leaders with some of the lawyers for Sarawakian Bumiputera Christian Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill and some of the lawyers who held watching briefs. ― Picture by Ida Lim
Church leaders with some of the lawyers for Sarawakian Bumiputera Christian Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill and some of the lawyers who held watching briefs. ― Picture by Ida Lim

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 12 — The High Court has deferred its decision in a Sarawakian native Christian’s lawsuit over her constitutional rights to religion and to non-discrimination, as well as the government’s ban of the word “Allah” in Christian publications.

Lawyer Annou Xavier, who represents Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill, confirmed that tomorrow is no longer fixed for the delivery of the decision in his client’s case.

“The decision tomorrow converted to case management. This is to enable parties to engage so as to try to resolve the matter.

“We now have a new administration which is people-friendly and willing to engage with the rakyat,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.

The High Court in Kuala Lumpur had initially fixed March 22 as the decision date, but had deferred it to August 13.

Senior federal counsel Shamsul Bolhassan, who represents the home minister and the government in the case, had in March told Malay Mail that the date was shifted to August 13 as the Attorney-General’s Chambers needed to get “fresh instructions” from the government.

Jill Ireland filed her lawsuit about 10 years ago after the Home Ministry seized eight compact discs (CDs) containing the word “Allah” meant for her personal use at KLIA 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 High Court had in July 2014 ruled that the Home Ministry was wrong to seize the CDs and ordered that they 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 High Court judge Datuk Nor Bee Ariffin on October 19 and November 15 last year.

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.

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