Arbitrary travel bans without legal basis, Malaysian Bar tells Putrajaya

Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru said the government had no general discretionary power to restrict a citizen’s right to travel in and out of Malaysia. — File pic
Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru said the government had no general discretionary power to restrict a citizen’s right to travel in and out of Malaysia. — File pic

KUALA LUMPUR, May 19 — The government’s claimed power to arbitrarily restrict the travels of any Malaysian is a “myth”, said the Malaysian Bar today.

Disputing Deputy Home Minister Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed who asserted such powers, Malaysian Bar president Steven Thiru said authorities were only empowered to enforce travel bans in limited scenarios such as bankruptcies and tax defaults.

“There is no general discretionary power to restrict a citizen’s right to travel in and out of Malaysia. Unrestrained discretion in the hands of the government is a myth,” he said in a statement today.

The head of the peninsular professional legal body said the Immigration Act 1959/63 does not contain an expressed provision to bar travel.

Bersih 2.0 chairman Maria Chin Abdullah was prohibited last Sunday from flying to South Korea to accept a human rights award on behalf of the electoral reform group.

Nur Jazlan claimed later that immigration authorities have the power to bar “anybody” from leaving Malaysia, without needing to justify their decisions, and that Malaysian passports are a privilege, not a right.

The Immigration Department also reportedly enforced a ruling a few months ago to bar those who insult the government from travelling abroad for three years, with Nur Jazlan claiming that the government’s definition of insult was based on interpretations in the Federal Constitution.

Steven, however, said a travel ban violated one’s right to life or personal liberty under Article 5(1) of the Federal Constitution, citing the 2009 Federal Court ruling in Lee Kwan Woh vs Public Prosecutor that said “personal liberty” includes the right to travel abroad.

“It is also untenable for the immigration authorities to restrict an individual’s right to travel without giving any written reasons.

“There is 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,” said Steven.

The lawyer said failure to provide a reason for barring travel would imply that none exists and give rise to the 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,” he said.

Steven also pointed out that the Sedition Act 1948 was amended to decriminalise criticism of the government.

“Travel bans must not be used to perpetuate that which has, in principle, been abolished,” he said.

He urged Putrajaya to immediately rescind the overseas travel ban on Chin and others and to cease resorting to “any illegitimate means of wrongfully silencing its critics”.