KUALA LUMPUR, May 18 — Passports allowing Malaysians to travel to and from the country are issued as a privilege and not a right, Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed said today.

Nur Jazlan, who was responding to the Immigration Department’s new rule to block those who ridicule the government from leaving the country, said the law stipulates that passports are issued at the discretion of the department’s director-general.

“The power to allow people to go in or out of the country is with the director-general. And he also issues the passport, which is actually a privilege, not a right.

“So, when they carry out their duties, they carry out the duties with the interest of the nation in mind,” he told reporters here at the Dewan Rakyat lobby.

He explained that what is deemed as an insult or ridicule is based on the Constitution’s interpretation of offensive words and behaviour. The public’s response to the insult would also be taken into account before any decision on travel restrictions is made, the deputy minister added.

Nur Jazlan cited as examples the Facebook postings and comments by individuals like sex blogger Alvin Tan, as well as comments and insults that hurt religious sensitivities.

“If we feel that that is considered as insulting the country, then we can take action,” he said.

“We measure against the Constitution. If it is insulting religions, races, it can be considered insulting the country,” he added.

However, Nur Jazlan said there were “not many” who were barred from leaving the country for this reason, and that individuals were mostly barred for criminal involvement and involvement with ongoing cases with the police.

English language daily The Star today reported Immigration Department director-general Datuk Sakib Kusmi confirming that there is a new ruling to stop Malaysians who ridicule the government from travelling overseas.

The daily also quoted a source saying that the ruling was introduced a few months ago, and that the overseas travel ban for a period of three years will also be slapped on those who discredit the government overseas when they return to Malaysia.

The same source reportedly said the new ruling also imposes a two-year overseas travel ban and inclusion to a special blacklist for Malaysians found working overseas without a valid permit or deported for overstaying in another country, or who had committed a crime.

Malaysia has barred several politicians and activists from travelling abroad recently, with the latest being Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah who was stopped last Sunday from flying to South Korea to receive a human rights award for the electoral reform group.