Catholic paper fights Malaysia gov’t language curb

A Catholic newspaper warned Friday it might take Malaysia's government to court for allegedly violating the rights of religious minorities by refusing to let the publication use the national Malay language.

The Herald, the main Roman Catholic weekly in Muslim-majority Malaysia, received a letter from the Home Ministry on Tuesday restricting it to English, Mandarin and Tamil for its multilingual editions. The newspaper typically uses four languages including Malay.

The Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, said the newspaper sent a letter to the ministry Friday to appeal the order. If there is no response in seven days or the decision is not retracted, the Herald will consider legal action against the government, Andrew said.

"The prohibition amounts to persecution," Andrew told The Associated Press. "It curtails our freedom of expression and diminishes our rights as citizens. … We are perplexed and we do not think that the prohibition is on solid legal ground."

The ministry has said the language curb would be in effect until a court rules on a dispute between the Herald and the government over the use of the word "Allah" as a Malay-language translation for "God." The Herald has sought a court order to challenge the government's ban last year on its use of "Allah." A hearing is scheduled for next month.

The government has said the use of the word could confuse Muslims, while the Herald insists "Allah" has been used for centuries to mean "God" in Malay.

Abdul Razak Abdul Latif, an official with the Home Ministry's publishing unit, declined to say whether the latest language restriction might be lifted.

He added the Herald has the right to pursue further legal action, but stressed that the ministry "does not consider the decision to be a violation of any rights."

The ministry's letter to the Herald this week was meant to confirm its publishing license would be extended for another year. All publications must renew a license approved by the government annually, but the newspaper had feared it would be banned for continuing to use "Allah" and highlighting political issues instead of only religious ones.

The Herald's troubles illustrate concerns among many minority Christians, Buddhists and Hindus in the multiethnic country that their rights have been undercut by government efforts to boost the status of Islam.

Dissatisfaction among minorities over sporadic demolition of Hindu temples, court rulings about the right to leave Islam and other religious disputes contributed to the government's poor performance in national elections last March. – AP