Thiru: Only two exceptions allow travel ban

There’s no general discretionary power to restrict a citizen’s right to travel in and out of Malaysia.

KUALA LUMPUR: The Malaysian Bar has urged Putrajaya to immediately rescind the overseas travel ban that the authorities have imposed on Maria Chin Abdullah and others, and to cease and desist from resorting to any illegitimate means of wrongfully silencing its critics.

“The government must also take concrete measures to promote open and constructive criticism of it by others,” added Malaysian Bar Chairman Steven Thiru in a statement. “It must safeguard each citizen’s right to unimpeded freedom of movement and freedom of expression, and adhere to basic principles of the rule of law and natural justice.”

There’s no general discretionary power to restrict a citizen’s right to travel in and out of Malaysia, pointed out Thiru. “Unrestrained discretion in the hands of the government is a myth. There’s no express provision to bar travel under the Immigration Act 1959/63.”

“There is a limited power to restrict a citizen’s right to travel, but only under specific legislation such as Section 104 of the Income Tax Act 1967 and Section 38A(1) of the Bankruptcy Act 1967.”

Otherwise, continued Thiru, a travel ban violates the right to life or personal liberty that is guaranteed in Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution, which extends to the right to travel.

He argued that it was also untenable for the immigration authorities to restrict an individual’s right to travel without giving any written reasons. “There’s a duty to give reasons in law when a fundamental right is denied.”

“The immigration authorities therefore have a legal obligation to provide the justification for imposing a travel ban on a particular individual.”

The failure to specify the basis for barring travel would imply that none in fact exists, and that the decision was simply a capricious exercise of discretion by the immigration authorities to restrict freedom of movement of selected persons, charged Thiru. “It gives rise to a perception of abuse of power.”

“This and other incidents of travel bans being imposed will also invariably be viewed as a blatant attempt to intimidate and silence those who seek to exercise their freedom of movement and expression to expose wrongdoing within the corridors of power.”

Thiru: Only two exceptions allow travel ban
May 20, 2016 – FMT

Ridiculing the government is part of democracy

So it is extremely disturbing to read that the Immigration Department reportedly enforced a ruling a few months ago to prohibit Malaysians who ridicule the government from travelling overseas for three years. This came after Bersih 2.0 chair Maria Chin Abdullah, who has been fighting for free and fair elections, was barred from flying to South Korea last Sunday to receive a human rights award for the electoral reform NGO. DAP lawmaker Tony Pua has also been barred from leaving the country since last July.

Criticising the government is not a criminal offence.

Controlling the movement of Malaysians solely because of their political ideologies is an abhorrent abuse of power.

Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed claimed that the Malaysian passport is a privilege, not a right. He also claimed that the government’s definition of insult or ridicule is based on the Federal Constitution.

However, the word “insult” is not found anywhere in the Federal Constitution. The only thing that comes close to criminalising so-called insults is Section 298A of the Penal Code that prohibits causing disharmony on grounds of religion. Nothing to do with insulting the government.

According to Nur Jazlan, the government considers religious and racial insults as equivalent to insulting the country and as such, can merit an overseas travel ban.

If that’s indeed the case, then the government should first haul such people to court, charge them with a criminal offence (if any), and get a conviction before punishing them with a travel ban. Imposing such a heavy punishment arbitrarily, even before a court decides if one has committed a crime, violates the maxim of innocent till proven guilty.

In any case, hurling insults or criticisms should never be criminalised in the interest of freedom of speech. Travel restrictions should only be enforced against people charged with actual crimes to prevent them from fleeing the country.

The Home Ministry should also take note of our fundamental right to freedom of movement under Article 9 of the Federal Constitution. Although the Article doesn’t specifically mention the freedom to travel abroad, the spirit of the law should be observed. Article 5 of the Federal Constitution also guarantees Malaysians the right to personal liberty.

Article 13 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifically mentions one’s right to leave their country and to return to it.

By the way things are going in Malaysia, less than five years before we’re supposed to achieve developed nation status, it appears that the government is intent on regressing into a dictatorship.

Ridiculing the government is part of democracy
May 20, 2016 – MMO

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