Reverend Father Lawrence Andrew confirmed talk that the newpaper’s annual licence, which is under the scope of the Home Affairs Ministry, has been approved.
“It’s not a victory or anything,” Andrew told The Malaysian Insider over the phone while on his way home after an hour-long dialogue with senior aides to Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein in Putrajaya this evening.
“They are now talking sense, using reason instead of emotion,” he added.
Andrew expects to receive the permit within a week, after he reminded ministry officials of the bad experience he had in getting the current permit.
He had been notified the 2009 permit was approved only on Dec 31, the expiry date of the previous year’s permit, and received the permit proper only in January.
“They said they are issuing it,” Andrew said.
All print media owners here must have a publishing permit or risk jail and a fine under the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984.
The issue had caused a public outcry a few days after being highlighted by The Malaysian Insider earlier in the week.
But national news agency Bernama reported Hishammuddin today calling the revocation report baseless as the weekly's publication was still allowed in four languages namely Malay, English, Mandarin and Tamil.
"The only issue here is whether they would be allowed to print The Herald in Kadazandusun," he told a news conference after chairing a post-cabinet meeting here today.
Hishammuddin said that the weekly's editor had sent a letter to the ministry informing them of a deferment in the publication of the Kadazandusun version.
The parish priest of St Anne’s Church in Port Klang had been invited to a meeting yesterday with Hishammuddin’s special officer, Datuk Lau Yeng Peng, to clear up the confusion caused by two letters issued by the ministry a few months back.
Other key staffers also present at the meeting included Datuk Michael Chong, also a special officer to the home minister; and the head of the publication control and Quranic text division.
“We are to take the first letter and ignore the second letter,” Andrew said, adding that “the confusion was caused by wrong wording in the letters.”
Andrew did not want to comment further on the explanations from the ministry, but confirmed that one of the reasons given requested him to write in for a refund for “payment made too early”.
Ministry officials said the church only needed to pay the fee three months before the permit expires, implying that it was too hasty when it paid in August instead of October.
The ministry had on Aug 5, sent out a letter approving the 2010 permit for the paper to publish in four languages: Bahasa Malaysia, English, Mandarin and Tamil.
In the same letter, it noted the church had applied to publish in Kadazandusun, an ethnic language widely used in Sabah, but rejected the request, even though a large number of Malaysia’s 850,000 Catholics hail from Borneo. No reasons were given.
The ministry then requested the church to pay the RM800 fee made out to the Chief Secretary of the Home Affairs Ministry through a bank draft or money order within a month from the date of the letter, or before the current permit expires, which is on Dec 31.
The letter was undersigned Norlin Mudzafar on behalf of the home ministry’s chief secretrary.
The church promptly paid up within the month.
The next month, Andrew said, he received another letter from the ministry, dated Sept 3, and undersigned by Abdul Razak Abdul Latif from the publication control and Quranic text division, also on behalf of the ministry’s chief secretary.
The second letter rejected an application to change the language, which puzzled Andrew because he did not remember applying to change any language in The Herald.
The priest was more confused when the letter instructed him to furnish the ministry with four documents for a refund on the RM800 fee, namely: a valid copy of the bank statement in the name of the publisher, the “Titular Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuala Lumpur”; a valid copy of the applicant’s identity card (IC); a valid copy of the organisation’s registration certificate; and a letter requesting a refund.
Christians Here Called God "Allah" Since Year 1631
Home Ministry officials in Putrajaya today were stunned to learn that the word “Allah” had been used by Catholics in this country to refer to the Christian God hundreds of years ago.
“I told them that ‘Allah’ had been used in this country because the lingua franca at that time was Malay,” Reverend Father Lawrence Andrew, the priest-editor of The Herald, told The Malaysian Insider.
The priest had met several senior aides to Home Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein in Putrajaya earlier this evening to clear up the confusion over the Catholic paper’s on-off publishing permit for next year.
Among the staffers present were the ministry’s head of publication control and Quranic texts and two special officers to Hishammuddin, Datuk Lau Yeng Peng and Datuk Michael Chong.
Andrew described the meeting as “cordial”.
During the hour-long dialogue, Andrew took the chance to draw their attention to a Malay-Latin dictionary published in 1631 which showed the translation for “Allah” and a Catholic prayer book published in 1894 brought over from Hong Kong.
The priest related that Hishammuddin’s aides were surprised to learn that Catholics had used the word “Allah” outside the Muslim context over four hundred years ago but declined to comment on the issue, explaining it was beyond their scope.
The church is challenging the home minister’s ban in recent years on it publishing the word “Allah” to refer to the Christian God.
The ministry first threatened to cancel The Herald’s licence last year, effectively shutting down the country’s only Catholic publication.
The High Court here had earlier this week ejected nine Islamic bodies from intervening in the suit.
The fight to decide who can use the word “Allah” to mean what will be heard on Dec 14.
"Agi Idup Agi Ngelaban"