Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Malaysia denies any plan to close Catholic paper

Malaysia denies any plan to close Catholic paper

By JULIA ZAPPEI – 16 hours ago

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia (AP) — Malaysia's Muslim-majority government denied any plan Wednesday to shut down a Catholic newspaper accused of flouting publication rules by running articles deemed political and insulting to Islam.

The Herald, the main Roman Catholic weekly in Malaysia, has received warnings over the past year that it could lose its publishing license, which expires Dec. 31. All Malaysian publications must renew their government license every year.

The Rev. Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald, said the Home Ministry has not renewed the paper's license even though it submitted an application months ago, while in past years a license was typically issued far in advance.

"If they want to delay it like that, it doesn't give me any indication that it (the license renewal) will happen," Andrew said in a telephone interview.

Che Din Yusoh, an official with the Home Ministry's publishing unit, however, said officials were merely bogged down with a large number of license applications.

"We will issue it by the end of the month," he told The Associated Press. "There is nothing to worry about."

The Home Ministry sent a letter to the Herald's publishers earlier this year warning that the newspaper had "committed offenses" by highlighting Malaysian politics and current affairs instead of Christian issues for which it has been given a license.

The ministry also accused the Herald of carrying an article that "could threaten public peace and national security" because it allegedly "denigrated Islamic teachings."

The Herald has said, however, the article titled "America and Jihad — Where do they stand?" was not meant to insult Islam but was an analysis of circumstances following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

The publication is also currently embroiled in a court dispute with the government over a ban on 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 on its use of the word. Hearings have not begun.

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.

The Herald's problems underscore the tenuous position of minority religions amid a recent string of interfaith disputes. Many Christians, Buddhists and Hindus fear their rights are being undermined by government efforts to bolster the status of Islam, Malaysia's official religion.

Ethnic Malay Muslims make up nearly two-thirds of Malaysia's 27 million people. Dissatisfaction among minorities over the demolition of Hindu temples, court rulings about the right to leave Islam and other religious disputes contributed to the government's poor performance in March elections.

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