‘Herald’ gets new permit with strings attached

(NST) PUTRAJAYA: After months of waiting for word if they could continue publishing, the publisher of the Herald, a Catholic weekly, can now heave a sigh of relief.

The Home Ministry decided on Tuesday to approve the publication's annual printing permit.

However, it was not without conditions.

The ministry's Publications and Quranic Text Control unit deputy secretary Abdul Razak Abdul Latif said the approval letter sent to the publisher outlined three rules that they must abide. They are:

– to cease the publication of Herald in Bahasa Malaysia until the court decides on its move to seek a declaratory relief that it is entitled to use the word "Allah";

– that the publication can only be sold in churches; and

– that it prints clearly on the cover that the paper is only meant for Christians.

The publication, through the Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam, is seeking a declaration that the home minister's directive to cease the use of the word "Allah" is illegal and null and void.

Razak said the unit would be monitoring Herald closely to ensure that these conditions were followed.

"The minute they break any of these conditions, we will lodge a report with the enforcement unit which will then take action against the weekly's publisher," he told the New Straits Times yesterday.

He said it was unfair to claim that the ministry was deliberately giving the Herald a hard time, including waiting till the last minute to approve its printing permit.

The publication had been given a string of warning letters for dabbling in issues other than religion.

He said the warning letters were issued as the publication's previous permit had stated that the contents of the weekly should solely be on religious matters.

Under the latest permit, he said there should be no problems for the 32-page weekly, currently published in English, Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and Tamil, to touch on issues beyond religion, as the ministry had approved its application for covering "religion", "current affairs" and "international affairs" topics.

"We have nothing personal against the publication. It was all a big misunderstanding.

"The unit also monitors the contents of the publication to ensure that what is printed does not erode the akidah (faith) of Muslims," he said, adding that the permit approval letter was signed by Home Minister Datuk Seri Syed Hamid Albar.