11:53am 26/05/2023
Confusion over Allah controversy
By:Bob Teoh

Far from not appealing against an earlier High Court decision in favor of Jill Ireland, the Attorney-General had earlier appealed to the Court of Appeal but the case was sent back to the High Court to look at the constitutional issues Ireland had raised.

The controversy dragged on until Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad became prime minister once again when the opposition Pakatan Harapan swept into power in the 2018 general elections.

According to those familiar with the Allah dispute, the new prime minister appointed a five-member cabinet committee, which included Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (then the home minister) to deal with it instead.

Unfortunately, the Mahathir administration did not last 22 months when Muhyiddin became prime minister through the so-called Sheraton Move coup.

Muhyiddin, like Mahathir, did not last long either, and was soon replaced by Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

Subsequently, Pakatan Harapan swept back into power in the 2022 general elections with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as prime minister.

Legal sources said an amicable resolution has finally arrived. Both the Jill Ireland appeal before the Court of Appeal and the Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) church of Sabah judicial review pending in the High Court since 2007 were to be withdrawn.

The SIB case arose over the confiscation of their Sunday school materials imported from Indonesia containing the word “Allah” in them.

The sources said an end to litigation would set the course for a non-litigious approach to avoid any public order implications.

The confusion over the Allah controversy is partly because there are three cases before the court, complicated by intervention from Islamic councils in the proceedings.

The new Mahathir administration decided that the dispute should be resolved. The prime minister appointed a five-member cabinet committee, with two ministers from Sabah, one from Sarawak, and two from West Malaysia, one of whom was Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin (then the home minister) to work on it.

Unfortunately the Mahathir administration did not last 22 months when Muhyiddin became an unelected prime minister through the so-called Sheraton Move, a backdoor coup within the ruling party.

The confusion over the Allah controversy is partly because there are three Allah cases before the court.

The first to be decided was the Catholic Archbishop suit in 2007 against the government for not renewing the annual publishing permit for their weekly newspaper “Herald” unless it stopped using the word “Allah” in its Bahasa edition to refer to God.

That case went all the way up to the Federal Court – the apex court – where the Herald case was stopped in its tracks when leave to appeal on questions of points of law was denied.

The Jill Ireland case was filed in 2008 after the Herald and SIB suits. Ireland’s suit against the government arose out of the confiscation of audio compact discs (CDs) belonging to her which carried the word “Allah” in each of the eight titles, when she landed at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT) on May 11, 2008 from Jakarta.

Confusion over Ireland’s case is mainly because there have been not one but two High Court judgments and a Court of Appeal judgment involving appeals and cross appeals.

Adding to the confusion are three Islamic councils which sought to intervene in the proceedings.

They later withdrew their application to intervene but were allowed to appear as amicus curiae or friend of the court.

They are not participants to the proceedings but may be invited to advise on a matter before the court.

But things took a twist for the worse when the Islamic councils and/or their lawyers began making statements to the media. And hell broke loose.

What could have been a resolution in accordance with the rule of law and the Constitution went out of the window.

Coming next: Understanding the Jill Ireland judgments

(Bob Teoh is a retired journalist. He was previously SecretaryGeneral of the Confederation of ASEAN Journalists from 1985 to 1987.)




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