M’sian Catholic paper gets new permit: church leader

MALAYSIA authorities are to allow a Catholic paper to continue to print, after earlier threatening to revoke its licence in a row over the word 'Allah', a church leader said on Sunday.

Augustine Julian, secretary of the Catholic Bishops' Conference, told AFP a new licence had been granted to the weekly, which would continue to use the term.

'The letter to allow The Herald to be printed was hand delivered by internal security officials Sunday,' he said.

'They have allowed us to publish the weekly as usual. All four sections – in English, Malay, Tamil and Chinese – will be published. I suppose if they give us the printing permit we can continue to use the word Allah,' he added.

Mr Julian said no reasons were given for the extension but suggested the government would not want to alienate Malaysia's two million Christians ahead of general elections.

The Herald, a tabloid-sized newspaper, is circulated among the country's 850,000 Catholics with articles written in English, Chinese, Tamil and Malay.

A junior minister had earlier warned its printing permit, due to expire on Monday, would not be renewed if it continued using the Malay word for 'Allah', which the government says can only be used by Muslims.

Malaysian commentators have sounded alarm over the growing 'Islamisation' of the country and the increasing polarisation of the three main ethnic communities, which mix much less than in the past.

Religion and language are sensitive issues in multiracial Malaysia, which experienced deadly race riots in 1969.

The publisher of The Herald and a church group in Sabah state on Borneo island have filed a legal suit against the government for banning them from using the word Allah. — AFP