Court Orders Return of Confiscated Christian CDs

Malaysiakini Jul 21, 2014

The Kuala Lumpur High Court has ordered the Home Ministry and government to return the eight Christian religious CDs with the word “Allah” that it seized from Sarawakian Christian Jill Ireland in May 2008.

However, Justice Zaleha Yusof declined to rule on the constitutional prayers under Article 8, 11, sought by Jill.

Justice Zaleha ruled that the senior authorised officer from the Customs Department Suzana Muin, who issued the seizure order, had acted illegally in withholding the CDs as such powers lie with the home minister.

She held that the respondents had acted in error of the law under Section 9 of the Printing Presses and Publication Act 1984, by withholding the CDs.

“Suzana acted ultra vires as such detention (of CDs) must be authorised by the minister himself and is not delegated to anyone else.

“Following this, the CDs are to be returned to the plaintiff. Though this is a public interest case, I order respondents to pay RM500 costs,” Justice Zaleha ruled.

The decision today is the first decision by the court after the Federal Court hearing on the Archbishop Roman Catholic Church over the Herald weekly which was delivered last month. There is another case namely the Sidang Injil Borneo case, pending.

Section 9A of the PPPA is about withholding delivery pending decision of the minister, when a senior authorised officer reasonably suspects that a publication contains any article, caricature, photograph, report, notes, writing, sound, music, statement or any other thing which is likely to be prejudicial to public order, morality, security, or which is likely to alarm public opinion, or which is likely to be contrary to any law or is otherwise prejudicial or is likely to be prejudicial to public interest or national interest, he may withhold delivery of such publication pending the decision of the minister
to deal with it as provided for under Section 9.

In this case, then Home Minister Syed Hamid Albar (left) only supported the decision by Suzana to withhold the CDs but he did not make any decision on whether it should be held for a longer period of time.

Today’s decision was watched by various interest groups including the Bible Society Malaysia, and the Malaysian Consultative Council of Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and Sikhism (MCCBHST).

Prohibited items

The items were seized as they were considered prohibited items, and it concerned public order and breached the Islamic Advancement Department’s (Jakim) guidelines.

The CD’s were brought in by Jill from Indonesia and were seized at the Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT).

The eight CDs are titled ‘Cara menggunakan kunci kerajaan Allah’, ‘Cara hidup dalam kerajaan Allah’, Ibadah yang benar dalam kerajaan Allah’, Metode Pemuridan Kerajaan Allah, Pribadi yang bertumbuh dalam kerajaan Allah, Hidup Benar dalam kerajaan Allah, Pemerintahan Kerajaan Allah Dalam Hidup dan Rahasia Kerajaan Allah’.

The Cabinet and Jakim had issued a prohibition that religions other than Islam are not allowed to use the word `Allah’. However, the Christian community in Sabah and Sarawak has been using the word `Allah’ in their daily practice.

Jill is seeking a certiorari to quash the home minister’s decision to seize the CD’s named above, and an order of mandamus (to compel) the home minister to return the CD’s.

These two reliefs were allowed by Justice Zaleha. However, she did not allow a relief that in allowing Jill the freedom to practise her religion, she is allowed to bring or import the publication and that based on Article 8 on equality, there should not be any discrimination on a citizen based on her religion in the administration of the law based on the PPPA and the Customs Act 1967.

The court also did not allow a declaration under both Article 8 and 11 that Jill is allowed to use the word ‘Allah’ and has the right to own, obtain, and use the imported material.

Senior Federal Counsel Munahyza Mustafa and Andi Razalijaya A Dadi, represented the home minister while Annou Xavier (left) and Lim Heng Seng represented Jill.

The senior federal counsel indicated it will seek further instructions on whether to file an appeal.

Decision welcomed

Lawyer Philip Koh, representing MCCBHST, said this is a welcomed decision, as it highlighted the proper procedure to be followed by the ministry and its officers.

Koh said the rule of law should be respected at all times and the integrity of the provision under Section 9A should be followed.

“There should be a proper procedure to detain the items. Do not detain things without proper procedure. This case is not about Christians and Muslims but  the legitimacy of their practices.”

He said the authorities cannot determine on their own to withhold anything without the authorisation of the minister.

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