KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 2 — Chito Gascon nearly did not make it to a human rights conference here today in which he had been invited to speak by Malaysia’s National Human Rights Commission (Suhakam) and the Kofi Annan Foundation.
The chairman of the Philippines Human Rights Commission who flew into the Kuala Lumpur International Airport yesterday afternoon told reporters today he was initially refused entry due to his involvement at an event last year that was also attended by Bersih 2.0 representatives.
An Immigration officer on duty has spotted a note on her screen while processing his entry and led him to a side room in the transit area.
“After around 30 minutes of waiting, they said I wasn’t allowed entry because of a police directive. Shortly after, a police officer stopped by and introduced himself as a member of the Special Branch but did not disclose his name.
“He said I was part of an illegal assembly which was Bersih related,” Gascon told reporters.
However, he said the only Bersih-related event in Malaysia he attended was the 2016 South Korean Prize for Human Rights that was awarded to the local electoral watchdog last October.
“It was an award ceremony given by the South Korean group ‘May 18’ to Bersih 2.0 steering committee chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah. Normally they would give her the award in Korea but since Maria could not leave the country, they organised a prize giving ceremony here.
“I was invited and attended the event. Later, Maria and other Bersih members went to the police station over some issue but I opted to stay in my hotel room because I am still a government official,” Gascon related.
He also said the immigration officer did not place him under arrest but simply told him “to go home”.
Gascon is here as a guest speaker for a two-day conference titled “Democracy in South-east Asia: Achievements, Challenges and Prospects” featuring a host of other prominent world leaders, including former prime minister of Belgium Yves Leterme and former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
Despite the six-hour delay, Gascon said his time in transit was not an “unpleasant experience”, adding that the authorities were very nice and polite towards him.
He was finally allowed entry around midnight after a Suhakam representative contacted Minister in Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Paul Low who made “a few phone calls”.
“I was here with a few other participants. They informed Suhakam when I was waiting in the transit area and the Suhakam representative contacted the minister,” said Gascon who seemed quite amused by the whole incident.
Earlier, Suhakam chairman Tan Sri Razali Ismail told reporters that the Immigration Department has a right to deny anyone entry into Malaysia.
“The Immigration has the right to stop anyone from entry. We are not unhappy over what happened because there was no unnecessary detention. If there was, it would be a different story but we don’t really know why he was temporarily denied entry.
“However, we are happy with the outcome,” said Razali.