Thursday, May 19, 2016

Malaysia's rights to travel abroad
There is a big buzz at the moment about the rights of a Malaysian to travel overseas with a Malaysian Passport. With our Deputy Home Minister, Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed recently said that the issuance of a passport was privilege and not a right. He went on to say that the Immigration Department has the power to bar a citizen from leaving the country if the said person “discredits or ridicules the Government”.

All these came about when Maria Chin Abdullah, who heads the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (BERSIH 2.0), Malaysia's leading political pressure group, said she was stopped Sunday night from travelling to South Korea to accept the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights on behalf of her group. She, along with several notable opposition leaders and critics of the government has recently been banned from traveling out of the Peninsular and is creating a huge buzz among the community.

Thanks to the social media, news got out pretty fast and everyone jumps in with their 2 cents worth of Malaysian travel laws to comment about the ban. This got me curious of course so I went and did a bit of digging to see if I can find any other news/examples about the whole Passport problem.

Even the Immigration Department director-general Datuk Sakib Kusmi has stepped in and said that there is a new ruling to stop Malaysians who ridicule the government from travelling overseas. Sakib did not provide statistics on the number of Malaysians barred so far from travelling abroad for discrediting the government, but noted that it is a privilege to be able to have a Malaysian passport rather than a right. I also can't find the new ruling anywhere with google so anyone can help point me to the right article or link?

"The Malaysian international passport is a travel document issued by the Government under the aegis of the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong. So, the government has the discretion to either issue, defer or revoke the travel document," he was quoted saying in an email to local daily The Star.

But then, there's the Federal Court judgement in 2009 held that the right of Malaysian citizens to travel abroad with a valid passport was not a mere privilege as is widely believed. This judicial pronouncement was made by a three-man bench led by chief judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Richard Malanjum when deliberating a criminal appeal, and now has bearing on the Immigration Department’s move to revoke the passports of sex blogger Alvin Tan and activist Ali Abd Jalil.

Datuk Seri Gopal Sri Ram, who delivered the ruling in the case of Lee Kwan Woh v. Public Prosecutor, said  the term “personal liberty” in Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution included other rights such as the right to travel abroad. The bench, which included Datuk Hashim Yusoff, said this when the court seized the opportunity to interpret Article 5(1). In interpreting Article 5(1), the court said the concepts of “life” and “personal liberty” meant more than mere animal existence.

“Personal liberty includes other rights such as the right to travel abroad,” Sri Ram had said in the landmark ruling. Lee had been accused of trafficking ganja and the High Court had found him guilty and sentenced him to death. Lee had complained that his lawyer was not allowed to make submissions at the close of the prosecution’s case because the trial judge concluded there was sufficient evidence for Lee to answer the charge.

His appeal to the apex court was on the basis that this action – the failure to let his lawyer give submissions – had violated Article 5(1) which states that no person shall be deprived of “life” or “personal liberty” except in accordance with the law. The judgement which set Lee free also held that constitutional rights must be read “prismatically” and generously, not literally, and cited the right to travel abroad as an example of personal liberty.

The Federal Court’s ruling in Lee’s case was cited by lawyers who said the Immigration Department was wrong in revoking the passports of Tan and Ali, who are both seeking political asylum abroad. Immigration Department director-general Datuk Mustafa Ibrahim had said that this was done because Tan and Ali’s actions could not be “tolerated”, since they had “insulted” the judiciary and Malay rulers.

Several lawyers have told The Malaysian Insider that the department should immediately cancel the order in deference to the apex court’s ruling. “The department has transgressed an irrevocable right and acted contrary to natural justice,” lawyer R. Kengadharan said.

Lawyer S.N. Nair agreed that the director-general had exceeded his authority, while Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan said the department appeared to have breached Article 9 of the constitution for banishing citizens following the revocation of the travel document while they were abroad.

This section of the post is an old article from TMI so it's old news but managed to be retrieved from cache files.

Of course, all those examples from the Federal Court judgement can be thrown out the windows as
Datuk Sakib Kusmi also confirmed that Malaysians have the right to go to court and challenge travel bans on them. So if you checked with at and finds that your name's banned from traveling overseas, you can go and petition for the ban to be lifted. I guess this only applies to those that has been very vocal about the government and is in the limelight a lot for it.

What about travel bans to the Borneo island?  I tried some of the more well known recently banned travelers that went to Sarawak for the Sarawak election but their identification number did not raise any flag in the imi link. So if anyone reading this know where to check or a link to the page to check, do share by commenting below. It'll be nice to check since Sabah and Sarawak has autonomy over who they allow in from the Peninsular. 

The government had first drawn up in 1995 a list of offenses (can't find it in the IMI website, will share the link once I managed to find the list) that would result in a temporary overseas travel ban of between two to 10 years, with such offences including those convicted of crimes locally or abroad, deliberate damage of passports and making unapproved visits to Israel.
The Star quoted an unnamed source that said the new ruling to bar those who run down the government from travelling abroad was introduced a few months ago to protect Malaysia's image. The source also said the ruling kicks in upon request from enforcement agencies like the police.
"Anyone who runs down the Government or 'memburukkan kerajaan' in any manner will be barred from going abroad," the source said, adding that only the department's director-general can look into their appeals.

This is still quite a grey area when it comes to what can and cannot be done.  How far is far before a Malaysian falls foul of breaking any laws that permit a him/her from traveling? I guess for you and me, it doesn't really matter yet but the fear is real among the people on the street. Is the big brother listening to every conversation that is on the street? Will a person get banned from travel just for uttering something that isn't pleasant about the government over a cup of coffee? Time will tell, for now. Check your status before making any plans, better be safe than sorry.

Blogs about Dance, Travel and Food, Photography and gadgets that he purchases for work. Am available to do reviews.


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