KOTA KINABALU, Oct 2 — The alleged refusal of Malaysian authorities to renew Sabah secessionist Doris Jones’ passport is a blatant abuse of power and a violation of her constitutional right to citizenship, lawyers here said.
When contacted, the lawyers said the authorities cannot block the UK-based Jones from getting her Malaysian passport because she is wanted for arrest here as the country’s legal system regards every individual as innocent until proven guilty.
“Authorities have no power to arbitrarily deny Jones her passport simply because she faces charges,” said civil liberties lawyer Tengku Fuad Ahmad.
He added that there are more serious reasons for the Malaysian authorities to deny individuals their access to passports, like if the applicant is deemed a threat to national security or a terrorist under the The Security Offences (Special Measures) Act.
“Even if she was convicted, passports are usually only denied on grounds of security,” he said when contacted by Malay Mail Online.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, Jones said she received a notification from the Malaysian High Commission in London to collect her passport which she had applied for, only to be told by Immigration attaché Azhar Abdul Hamid later that her pending application has been refused.
She was also told that there was a pending status attached to her passport, under her registered name Doris Yapp Kim Youn, and that she could “try returning later”.
According to Tengku Fuad, without her passport and the fact that she faces arrest upon her return to Malaysia, the best thing for Jones to do now is to seek asylum in the United Kingdom.
“In these circumstances, it is clear that Doris will, if she returns, have to contend with a system that is strongly motivated against her — the authorities are determined to prosecute and convict her,” he said.
The lawyer, who is also the counsel for the four Sabah Sarawak Keluar Malaysia volunteers who were recently charged for sedition, explained, however, that cancelling Jones’s passport only restricts her ability to travel but does not strip her of her Malaysian citizenship.
“The sedition charge and the act of cancelling her passport is to me, evidence of persecution, which could assist Doris Jones in the event that she decides to seek asylum in the UK.
“At this stage, seeking asylum seems the safest course of action for her,” he said, adding that human rights laws in the UK would be favourable to her.
Former chief minister and lawyer Datuk Yong Teck Lee also agreed said that Malaysian authorities cannot deny a citizen the right to his or her passport, nor prevent them from returning to their home country.
“Whether the passport holder might be arrested or detained for investigation upon return to Malaysia or not is another matter. But the citizen has a right to a passport.
“Denying her her passport only makes the Malaysian government look ridiculous. It is denial of her human rights to return to Malaysia,” he said, referring to the International Criminal Police Organisation.
The Sabah Progressive Party (SAPP) president said the Malaysian authorities should allow Jones to renew her passport if they wanted her to return to be arrested.
“It would be safe to assume Jones will be making a trip home eventually to tend to her elderly parents,” he said.
He also said Jones will likely be able to get a permanent residency in the UK due to her past marriage to a British citizen but she will become the first Sabahan being forced into exile by Putrajaya and not allowed home to Sabah.
PKR vice president Darell Leiking also said that Jones should not be deprived of her constitutional right to a passport when she has not been charged for a crime.
“She is, as far as the law is concerned, still innocent until proven guilty. Besides, any attempts by the authorities to secure her arrest should be by proper legal procedure in which the Malaysian police can enforce such arrest warrant by applying with the UK authorities,” he said.
“Until then, her right to a passport renewal is an inherent and constitutional right of a citizen of the federation and is separate from the warrant of arrest. She can take court action to affirm her right of renewal of the passport,” he said.
Jones shot into the spotlight about a year ago after a Facebook page she ran called “Sabah Sarawak Keluar Malaysia” surfaced, criticising government policies and promoting Sabah’s secession.
In February, Sabah police commissioner Datuk Jalaluddin Abdul Rahman announced a warrant of arrest for Jones under her registered name Doris Yapp Kim Young, 45, for sedition.
He also said that local police would seek Interpol’s help to find Jones in the UK but British law does not recognise the crime for which she is wanted in Malaysia, and Malaysians police have conceded they are not able to extradite Jones and can only act against her when she returns to the country.
Jones has repeatedly denied being contacted by Malaysian authorities or Interpol in the UK.