KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 5 — As a Malaysian professor starts a landmark case against the United States for inexplicably placing her on a terrorism blacklist, Putrajaya is planning to enforce a similar system by June to prohibit terror suspects and other major criminals from flying into Malaysia.
Immigration Director-General Datuk Alias Ahmad said the Advance Passenger Screening System (APSS) will enable the Malaysian authorities to share intelligence with their foreign counterparts in countries such as the US, United Kingdom, Australia and the Netherlands, in order to screen for blacklisted travellers even before they can fly to Malaysia.
“The suspect list will contain names of terrorists, drug traffickers, weapon smugglers, organised criminals, essentially trans-national crime,” Alias told The Malay Mail Online yesterday.
“With the APSS system, if they want to fly from Karachi for example, they cannot check in (for the flight) from Karachi to Malaysia. They cannot fly at all,” he explained.
Alias said that Malaysia will work with other countries in the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the trade association for airlines around the world that represents about 240 airlines, or 84 per cent of total air traffic.
He declined to comment, however, when asked about the criteria for placing suspects on the APSS list.
“We don’t discriminate. They’re basic criteria to protect safety and security,” said Alias.
He added that currently, the police and immigration worked with Interpol to prevent suspected criminals from entering Malaysia once they land at the airport, but again refused to specify the criteria for the blacklist.
The recent US case of the Malaysian professor has highlighted the plight of those who are — as they contend — inadvertently placed on such lists. It also exposed the opacity of the system that makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to remove one’s name after being listed.
Dr Rahinah Ibrahim, the dean of Universiti Putra Malaysia’s faculty of design and architecture, is suing the US government to expunge her name from the mysterious watch list barring entry to terror suspects, claiming that she was mistakenly placed in the database because of her Malaysian origin and Muslim faith.
The 48-year-old university professor’s lawsuit went to trial at the San Francisco federal court on Monday and is believed to be the first case to get its day in court, amid other similar lawsuits pending in the US.
Rahinah has struggled for eight years in the American court system to clear her name from the secretive list, after she was first detained at the San Francisco airport in 2005 on a Malaysia-bound flight with a stopover in Hawaii.
International news wire Associated Press reported yesterday that Rahinah has denied links to terrorist organisations after the 48-year-old was interviewed by the US’ Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in December 2004, who had asked if she had heard of Jemaah Islamiyah, an Indonesia-based militant group.
Rahinah was arrested the next month at the San Francisco International Airport, where she was told that she has been labelled a terrorist suspect in the US government database.
She was subsequently barred from entering the country ever since, according to a report by US newspaper San Jose Mercury News on Monday.
Rahinah was even prohibited from entering the United States to testify at her trial.
According to the AP, Rahinah’s lawsuit is encountering difficulties because of the US government’s state secret privilege that allows it to refuse to disclose vital evidence if a threat to national security can be shown by prosecutors.
Rahinah’s lawyer was prohibited by US national security provisions and court orders from exploring too deeply the inner-workings of the administration of the US government’s lists of suspected terrorists.