KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 13 — Malaysian mothers today expressed their deep disappointment at the Malaysian government’s decision to appeal against a landmark court ruling which finally recognised their children born abroad as Malaysian citizens too, and launched an online signature drive to stop the appeal.

Just barely days after the High Court’s September 9 historic decision in favour of the Malaysian mothers, the Malaysian government had today filed an appeal against the court ruling.

Family Frontiers, which had together with six Malaysian mothers won the lawsuit on Thursday last week, said it was “appalled” that the government had made the move to appeal the court decision.

The High Court in Kuala Lumpur had affirmed Malaysian women’s equal rights under the Federal Constitution — which only Malaysian men have been enjoying for decades — to confer citizenship automatically on their children born overseas to foreign spouses.

Family Frontiers said it was shocked at the Malaysian government’s decision to appeal the court decision, as three federal ministers including the de facto law minister had openly supported the same historic court decision.

Family Frontiers said it sees the move to appeal “as a betrayal of the rights that are long overdue to Malaysian women”.

“The Government had an opportunity to embrace the High Court’s decision, and move the needle towards greater justice and equality for its women citizens. 

“Instead, the Government has chosen to perpetuate this gross injustice that has plagued Malaysia since independence, the weight of which Malaysian women have borne for 64 long years,” the group said in a statement today following news of the government’s appeal.

Lauding the High Court’s decision just five days ago as having lifted the anxiety that had plagued Malaysian mothers, Family Frontiers however said that justice has now effectively been denied with the government’s move to appeal.

“The government, by appealing against this decision, has delayed justice not just to Malaysian women, but their children and their extended families. Justice delayed is justice denied,” it said.

Malaysian mothers are voters too

Family Frontiers today reminded the government that Malaysian women and mothers are voters, and said it would not hesitate to mobilise them around this issue and to exercise their right to vote in the next election for representatives who are committed to forming a government that affirms the right of women to equality and to be free from gender discrimination.

“The government’s action in appealing against the decision sends out a clear message that they are in favour of the continued discrimination and marginalisation of Malaysian mothers. We will not tolerate an administration that continues to defend archaic and sexist laws. 

“We strongly urge the Government of Malaysia, Minister of Home Affairs and the Director-General of the Department of National Registration to withdraw their Notice of Appeal immediately and not perpetuate such injustice against Malaysian women,” it added.

“We further call on Malaysians, both in the country and abroad, to sign this petition calling on the Government to withdraw its appeal against women’s equal right to citizenship: https://bit.ly/tarikbalikrayuan,” it said.

In just about three hours after the online petition was started by Family Frontiers on the website Change.org, more than 880 individuals have signed in support.

The petition is addressed to the Malaysian government, Home Minister Datuk Seri Hamzah Zainudin, the National Registration Department’s director-general and the Home Ministry.

Separately, Family Frontiers’ lawyers including Joshua Andran had also confirmed to Malay Mail that the Malaysian government had filed the appeal.

Their lawyer Datuk Gurdial Singh Nijar said “AGC filed appeal today”.

Members of Family Frontiers hold up placards demanding equal citizenship rights for Malaysians at the Kuala Lumpur High Court April 27, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Members of Family Frontiers hold up placards demanding equal citizenship rights for Malaysians at the Kuala Lumpur High Court April 27, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara

About the decision

In a brief explanation of the High Court’s September 9 decision, Family Frontiers said the effect of the decision was that it affirmed the equal rights of Malaysian mothers and opened the door for their children to no longer suffer unequal access to basic rights such as education and healthcare.

Currently, children born outside of Malaysia are entitled to Malaysian citizenship under the provisions of the Federal Constitution’s Article 14(1)(b) read in line with Section 1(b) and Section 1(c) of Part II of the Federal Constitution’s Second Schedule.

Section 1(b) and Section 1(c) currently state that the child’s “father” has to be a Malaysian citizen.

The High Court judge Datuk Akhtar Tahir on September 9 ruled that the word “father” must be read to include “mother” and that their children are entitled to citizenship by operation of law, and that the citizenship right provisions (Article 14(1)(b), Section 1(b), Section 1(c)) have to be read in harmony with the Federal Constitution’s Article 8(2) which prohibits gender discrimination.

Currently, Malaysian mothers who are married to foreigners have to apply for their children born abroad to have Malaysian citizenship, a process that is said to typically take years before the Malaysian government responds and with no guarantee that the child would become a citizen as the government can reject such applications. 

In comparison, Malaysian fathers would be able to confer their citizenship to children who are born abroad, which means they are automatically recognised as citizens and do not have to go through the same arduous and lengthy process of applying for citizenship.

Civil society groups have previously said that Malaysia is one of only 25 countries in the world that discriminates against women by not giving them the equal rights of passing on their citizenship to their children.

As for the response of government officials to the High Court’s decision, Family Frontiers listed de facto law minister Datuk Seri Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rina Harun, and Communications and Multimedia Minister Tan Sri Annuar Musa as being the three federal ministers who had openly voiced support for the decision.

Family Frontiers also listed Wanita MCA Sabah, and Sarawak’s state minister Welfare, Community Wellbeing, Women, Family and Early Childhood Development Datuk Seri Fatimah Abdullah as having welcomed this historic decision.

The appeal filed by the government today comes after the Malaysian mothers in the lawsuit had written an open letter to the prime minister to ask the Malaysian government not to file an appeal.

Earlier today, 114 organisations as well as 52 individuals issued a joint statement to urge the Malaysian government not to file an appeal, saying that this would then enable all National Registration Department offices and Malaysian embassies worldwide to expedite the registration of Malaysian Identification documents for children born overseas of Malaysian mothers and non-Malaysian fathers.