Malaysia 'Allah' dispute simmers on

January 14, 2010 Source: english.aljazeera.net

A church in the southern state of Johor was the ninth to be attacked over the "Allah" controversy [Reuters]

Lawyers for Malaysia's Catholic Church have said their offices were ransacked in the latest attack apparently linked to a dispute over the use of the word "Allah" to describe God.

The reported break-in follows a series of attacks on churches in the wake of a court ruling that overturned the government's ban on non-Muslims using the word "Allah".

A church in southern Johor state was also attacked on Thursday with unknown assailants throwing red paint at the building before dawn, local police said.

A day earlier a Sikh temple was attacked, apparently because the Sikh scriptures also use the word "Allah".

At least eight other churches have been firebombed or vandalised since the court ruling allowing the Malaysian Catholic weekly newspaper, the Herald, to use the word "Allah" to refer to God in its Malay-language edition.

'Intimidation tactic'

The legal firm attacked on Thursday represents the Herald.

Speaking to The Associated Press news agency, S Selvarajah, one of the firm's lawyers, said staff had arrived at work to find several locks and steel grille doors cut, drawers ransacked and papers strewn on the floor.

"Criticism and dissent are legitimate forms of expression, but threats, coercion, intimidation or violence are unacceptable"

Ragunath Kesavan, Malaysian Bar president

Selvarajah said a laptop was missing while a mobile phone service provider's shop and tuition centre on the first floor were not broken into.

"Only our office has been targeted," he said.

"It looks like it is an intimidation tactic … We anticipated something will happen. We are definitely upset about this."

Father Lawrence Andrew, the editor of the Herald, said he was "very concerned" about the break-in which he believes is linked to the ongoing court case.

"The law firm does not have any money or many valuables so we believe this is purely aimed at intimidation," he told AFP.

Meanwhile, the Malaysian Bar Association condemned the attack and urged a "thorough investigation".

Ragunath Kesavan, the president, said in a statement that lawyers must be free to represent their clients "without fear or favour".

"Criticism and dissent are legitimate forms of expression, but threats, coercion, intimidation or violence are unacceptable," he said.

'Acts of extremism'

Najib Abdul Razak, the Malaysian prime minister, has condemned the attacks that have followed the ruling last Friday.

He has vowed to do everything to bring the culprits to justice, and denied accusations that Umno, the party he leads, was racist.

Earlier this week the Malaysian home ministry in a briefing for foreign diplomats condemned the "acts of extremism" and pledged to "protect the sanctity" of the country's diverse religions.

The Herald has been using Allah in its Bahasa Malaysia, the country's national language, publication since 1995, but it was not until 2006 that it was warned by the government to stop using the word "Allah" to refer to God.

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