The Malaysian government has put a stop to a Catholic newspaper over the use of the word "Allah" in its Malay-language edition, the paper's editor reported Thursday.
Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of The Herald weekly newspaper, said the government ordered the Malay edition to stop running until courts resolve a ban on the paper's use of "Allah" to refer to God, according to the news site Malaysiakini.com.
Malaysia's Home Ministry reportedly sent a letter saying the newspaper is only allowed to operate its English, Mandarin and Tamil editions. The Herald usually has four editions, including Malay.
"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."
Andrew believes the ban is part of a larger government effort to restrict the newspaper, which is the main Roman Catholic weekly in Muslim-majority Malaysia. The newspaper had just renewed its license on Tuesday.
Last year, the newspaper had nearly lost its publishing license for using the word "Allah" as the translation for "God." Authorities had contended the word "Allah" should only be used by Muslims.
"The constitution says Malay is the national language so why can't we use the national language in Malaysia," the paper's editor told Agence France-Presse.
He noted that many Catholics in Malaysia are "bumiputera" or "son of the soil," which refers to ethnic Muslim Malays and the indigenous inhabitants in peninsular Malaysia and on Borneo Island who are mostly Christians.
To ban the use of the Malay word for "God" does not make sense because a large portion of Catholics in the country are bumiputera who mainly speak Malay, Andrew argued.
"More than 50 percent of our congregation are bumiputera and two of our bishops are bumiputera," the editor said.
Andrew said the newspaper sent a letter to the ministry on Friday to appeal the order. If there is no response within seven days or the decision is not retracted, the newspaper will consider taking the Malaysian government to court for violation of the rights of religious minorities.
The court decision on the "Allah" ban, meanwhile, will be decided in the courts next month, according to AP.
Malaysia, which is over 60 percent Muslim, has a long history of religious freedom problems. Several Christian converts from Islam have been denied the right to change their religion on their government identity card.
The government also restricted the Christian blockbuster hit "The Passion of Christ" to only Christian audiences, and Muslims in Malaysia had called for a ban on "Evan Almighty."
In general, Islam enjoys special privileges in Malaysia as the dominant religion.