Annual Report 2013
The state of the world's human rights

23 June 2014

Malaysia must end ban on Christians saying ‘Allah’

Malaysia must end ban on Christians saying ‘Allah’
Malaysian Muslim activists await the verdict outside the Federal Court.

Malaysian Muslim activists await the verdict outside the Federal Court.

© AFP/Getty Images

The idea that non-Muslims could face prosecution for using a particular word is deeply disturbing.
Amnesty International's Hazel Galang-Folli

Malaysia’s ban on Christians using the word “Allah” to refer to God is an abuse against free speech and must be scrapped, Amnesty International said after the country’s highest court upheld the controversial government ban.

“This ban violates the right to freedom of expression. The idea that non-Muslims could face prosecution for using a particular word is deeply disturbing,” said Amnesty International’s Malaysia researcher, Hazel Galang-Folli.

“The ban is not just repressive, it is also dangerous. It risks further inflaming religious tensions in Malaysia by denying its people the right to freedom of religion.” 

The Malaysian government introduced the ban in 2007 after the word “Allah” was used in a Malay-language edition of the Catholic Church’s newspaper, the Herald.

The Church appealed against the ban, arguing that “Allah” had been used to refer to the Christian God for centuries in Malay-language Bibles and other non-Muslim literature.

A court ruled in the Church’s favour in 2009, but that judgment was later overturned by Malaysia’s Court of Appeal. 

Today’s Federal Court verdict would appear to have ended the legal battle, although Malaysian media reported that the Church could ask for the decision to be reviewed.

Muslims make up almost two-thirds of Malaysia’s population of around 30 million, but there are also more than two million Christians in the country plus substantial numbers belonging to other faiths.

“The Malaysian authorities must immediately revoke this ban, which puts non-Muslim Malaysian speakers or writers at risk of arrest for simply exercising their right to free speech,” said Hazel Galang-Folli.

“Today’s ruling marks yet another blow to free speech in Malaysia, where government authorities continue to arrest and detain government critics, silence dissenting voices in the media and attempt to ban human rights groups from speaking out.”

The long-running dispute over the ban on saying “Allah” has stirred up religious friction in Malaysia. Three churches in Kuala Lumpur were firebombed after a court ruled in the Catholic Church’s favour in 2009, while the divisive ban has also sparked attacks on mosques.

Earlier this year, Malaysian authorities seized hundreds of Malay-language Bibles containing the word Allah from a Christian group.


Freedom Of Expression 




Asia And The Pacific 

Follow #malaysia @amnestyonline on twitter


21 August 2014

Children accused of being members of armed groups in the conflict in Mali are languishing in adult jails while human rights abuses continue.

Read more »
15 August 2014

The number of killings perpetrated by the police is on the rise again in the Dominican Republic whilst legislation intended to fix the problem stalls and stagnates in Congress... Read more »

19 August 2014

A Manipur court ruling directing the release of prisoner of conscience Irom Sharmila because there were no grounds for charging her with attempted suicide is a legal and... Read more »

21 August 2014

After fleeing their homes and surviving a perilous Mediterranean crossing, African migrants in Italy are falling prey to labor gangs.

Read more »
20 August 2014

The apparent execution-style killing by the Islamic State (IS) armed group of a US reporter who went missing in Syria constitutes a war crime.

Read more »