PUTRAJAYA, Oct 26 — The 27-year-old stateless Wong Kueng Hui, who was born in Sabah, today finally saw an end to his years of legal battles to be recognised as a Malaysian citizen, after the Federal Court rejected the Malaysian government’s final bid to stop the recognition.
Wong was born on January 2, 1995 at Hospital Keningau, Sabah. His Sarawakian father died when he was 10 while his mother — believed to be a non-Malaysian but of uncertain nationality — died when he was 17. Wong has been trying to ask the Malaysian government to recognise him as a Malaysian since the age of 12.
Wong had previously won both at the High Court and the Court of Appeal, but had to wait longer for Malaysia to recognise him as a citizen as the government had filed for leave to appeal at the Federal Court.
Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Tan Sri Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim, who headed the Federal Court panel, delivered the decision this morning when refusing leave for the government’s appeal.
The judge also noted that the Federal Court viewed the government’s appeal as being unlikely to be successful if it is allowed to go on for hearing.
“We are of the unanimous view that the leave application does not fulfil the threshold requirement under Section 96 of Courts of Judicature Act, and even if leave were to be granted, it will also have little chance of success on the merits. As such, we dismiss the leave application, with no order as to costs,” he said after hearing arguments from lawyers for the government and Wong in an online hearing via Zoom.
The other two Federal Court judges on the panel today are Datuk Rhodzariah Bujang and Datuk Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah.
With today’s decision, Wong can finally call himself a Malaysian, and the Malaysian government will have to issue him with the necessary documents to identify him as a citizen.
Asked what the court decision meant and what would happen next, Wong’s lawyer Mohd Haijan Omar told Malay Mail: “This is the final stage since leave is not granted. The judgment of the High Court granting him citizenship therefore stands. The next course of action is to write in to JPN enclosing the court order for them to execute and comply with it.”
Haijan was referring to High Court judge Datuk Nordin Hassan’s October 21, 2019 court order, which had declared Wong to be recognised as a Malaysian citizen under the Federal Constitution and which had also ordered the National Registration Department (NRD) director-general to issue a MyKad identification card or a citizenship certificate to Wong to recognise him as a Malaysian citizen.
Asked by Malay Mail about how he felt now that he has been recognised as a Malaysian, Wong said he was shedding tears of happiness: “I don’t know how to describe it, I’m so happy that tears are flowing.”
“But at the same time, I still feel sad because have a lot of stateless people out there still don’t have any documentation. I hope my victory today can lead other cases to obtain their citizenship,” Wong added.
Wong said he went through a lot of struggles as a stateless person, saying that “don’t have an IC means don’t have a basic human right”.
As for what he is looking forward to finally do as a Malaysian, Wong said he intends to pursue his studies by going for SPM first before continuing with tertiary studies: “For sure I will apply for bank account, driving licence, continue my studies. And of course, I will continue to speak up for other stateless people also.”
Stateless individuals or those who are not citizens of any country in the world are deprived of many opportunities and basic facilities in Malaysia, including not being able to open a bank account or to obtain driving licences.
Wong was also represented today by lawyers Sharifah Alawiah Syed Alwee and Asyraaf Abu Bakar Hamzah, while senior federal counsel Liew Horng Bin and federal counsel Ng Wee Li represented the National Registration Department (NRD) director-general, home minister and Malaysian government.
Lawyer Jasmine Wong held a watching brief for clients who have pending court cases in their bid to be recognised as Malaysians.
Among other things, Liew said that if the government had been granted leave to appeal, he would have argued that both the High Court and Court of Appeal erred by not addressing the issue of who should carry the burden of proving whether Wong was stateless.
Liew also argued that Wong is entitled to Indonesian citizenship, as Indonesia’s laws enable a child born outside of marriage to an Indonesian mother to be a citizen of the country.
He also claimed that the facts of the case allegedly showed Wong and his parents knew he was not a Malaysian citizen at birth and that they should not be allowed to benefit from the alleged inaction or failure over the years to determine his mother’s nationality.
But Haijan pointed out that Wong had taken steps to determine his mother’s nationality, armed with only the mother’s passport number that was stated in his NRD-issued birth certificate and with no other documents available to him.
“It was a document issued by the NRD. With this document, he checked with the embassies of Indonesia and the Philippines, no records of his mother were found here. Therefore, he couldn’t even begin to apply for any citizenship of any other country, thus rendered stateless,” he pointed out.
Insisting that Wong is stateless as he is not a citizen of any country, Haijan later added that his client no longer knows where to look for anymore as he has no other information and also said that the late mother did not have or leave any documents.
Haijan argued that the burden to prove that Wong is not a stateless individual had shifted to the government, once his client had taken steps to check with those embassies.
Liew confirmed to judge Rhodzariah that the government itself has not tried to verify with or made similar checks with the embassies of Indonesia and Philippines regarding Wong’s mother.
While Liew claimed that Wong had sat on his rights by not verifying his mother’s nationality when he was still 12 years old and she was still alive, Haijan pointed out that his client never received a response to his first citizenship application at the age of 12, and that the second citizenship application in 2014 was only rejected via a 2018 decision.
Haijan noted Wong only managed to find out about the 2018 decision by moving from Sabah to Peninsular Malaysia in order to follow up with the NRD headquarters in Putrajaya.
The Indonesian embassy on June 20, 2019 confirmed that it had not found any records of both Wong and his mother in its passport database, following a request from Wong on June 17, 2019.
Wong then filed a lawsuit through a judicial review on June 20, 2019 to seek to be recognised as a Malaysian, winning in the High Court in October 2019 and also again in the Court of Appeal on January 19 this year in a 2-1 decision.