National Catholic Reporter

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Malaysian official: Investigation of priest for sedition will continue

 | 
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

The nation's inspector general said he would continue investigating a prominent Jesuit under the country's Sedition Act, but he would not question him again.

Jesuit Fr. Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Catholic Herald, is under investigation for telling the news portal Malaysian Insider that "Allah" would continue to be used in Malay-language Masses in the state of Selangor, because it is the Arabic word for God.

In November, the sultan of Selangor, who is also the head of Islam in the state, said only Muslims may use the word "Allah."

The priest's remarks were published by the news portal Tuesday; on Wednesday, the priest was questioned by police after they received dozens of complaints about his remarks. The following day, The Malaysian Insider reported that the inspector general was continuing his investigation but would not recall Andrew.

The 1948 Sedition Act is designed to prevent acts of discontent, resistance or rebellion against the government and includes as an offense uttering "any seditious words." It defines as seditious "any act, speech, words, publication or other thing ... having a seditious tendency," which could include promoting "feelings of ill will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia."

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For years, the Catholic Herald has been involved in litigation over its use of the word "Allah" to refer to God in its Malay-language edition. In late 2009, the High Court in Kuala Lumpur ruled that the Home Ministry's order banning certain uses of the word was illegal. The court also said the word "Allah" is not exclusive to Islam.

However, in October, a three-member appeals court said use of "the word Allah is not an integral part of the faith in Christianity. ... The usage of the word will cause confusion in the community." The court ruled the Catholic Herald could not use the word "Allah."

Kuala Lumpur Archbishop Murphy Pakiam, the paper's publisher, said the church would appeal the ruling.

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