Catholic newspaper faces ban for writing "Allah"
A Catholic newspaper in Malaysia is facing a ban for using the word "Allah" to describe the Christian god.
Unless the government changes its mind, the Herald Catholic Weekly has only two weeks left to run before its licence expires at the end of the year.
The deputy home minister Wan Ahmad Farid Wan Salleh said: "Until December 31 we are not going to announce anything. There is plenty of time till then. Let them wait."
Malaysia is a semi-authoritarian country with strict media laws which has been ruled by the same government since independence from Britain 51 years ago.
Almost 60 per cent of the population are ethnic Malay Muslims and the remainder are ethnic Chinese or Indians following a variety of religions. These large ethnic and religious minorities claim that the government is attempting to stir Malay Muslim sentiment in attempt to deflect its unpopularity and maintain power.
"The Catholic Herald's 'Allah' is seen as a threat to national security," said Father Lawrence Andrew, editor of the Herald.
"We are now a scapegoat, a means for the Malay Muslims to rally together."
His newspaper, established in 1980 with a circulation of 14,000, is published in a variety of languages. In the Malay language the only word for "God" is "Allah" and the enwspaper claims it is impossible to avoid.
In March this year the government slumped to its worst ever election result due, analysts say, to a weakening economy and public anger over corruption. Ethnic minorities are also angry at laws which offer cheap loans, job opportunities and other preferences to ethnic Malays.
The 51-year-old regime is now seen as vulnerable to a challenge by the opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim, who wants to abolish the racial preferences system.
In recent weeks the Chinese community has been angered by a proposal to close Chinese language schools. A group of Indian community leaders are languishing in prison without charge after leading a protest against the demolition of Hindu temples a year ago.
Earlier this week police detained a group of mostly Indian protesters attempting to deliver a petition on labour rights to the government.
The ruling UMNO party has internal elections early next year and the new prime minister designate, Najib Razak, is seen as a hardliner.