Malaysia bars Roman Catholic using tribal language in its Sabah newspaper

Updated: 14 Nov 2009
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KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – The government in Muslim-majority Malaysia has barred a Roman Catholic newspaper from publishing a supplement in a language spoken by indigenous people on Borneo island, an official said Friday.


The decision will prevent the Herald, the Catholic Church's main mouthpiece in Malaysia, from adding a regular page in the Kadazandusun language, which is used by more than 500,000 people in Malaysia's Sabah state in Borneo.


The Herald can continue publishing in the four languages used by most Malaysians _ English, Malay, Chinese and Tamil. But the Home Ministry rejected its request to include Kadazandusun, a ministry official said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to make public statements. He declined to explain the reason for the decision.


The Kadazandusun people are mostly Christians, but they only comprise a small number of the Herald's readers. The Herald publishes about 12,000 copies weekly for the country's estimated 900,000 Catholics.


Rev. Lawrence Andrew, the Herald's editor, declined to comment on the matter Friday, saying he would meet ministry officials soon to discuss his concerns about whether the newspaper's annual publishing permit _ which is required for all publications in Malaysia _ would be renewed for next year. The ministry official said a new permit would be approved soon.


The Herald has faced persistent trouble with authorities in recent years over a separate dispute involving the newspaper's use of the word "Allah" as a translation for God in Malay. The government says the word "Allah" is exclusive to Islam, while Church officials insist usage of the word in other religions predates Islam.


The newspaper's problems underscore complaints of religious discrimination by Malaysia's minority Christians, Buddhists and Hindus. Other conflicts include court cases involving religious conversions, in which the legal system generally rules in favor of Muslims, who make up about two-thirds of Malaysia's 28 million people.




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