KUALA LUMPUR, July 23 ― The Immigration Department’s unexplained move to bar local politicians from leaving the country is abusive and an infringement of their constitutional rights, legal practitioners explained after DAP MP Tony Pua was turned away from KLIA2 yesterday.
Civil liberties lawyer Andrew Khoo said that while the Immigration Department has authority to act on requests from other government agencies to prohibit Malaysians from exiting the country, those affected have the right to know why they are being stopped.
“Anytime your liberty is curtailed, (whether) there’s an arrest, or your right to freedom to travel is curtailed, the onus is on the government to provide and explain and to be upfront and inform people of the reason.
“Otherwise it is an abuse of governmental power. It’s definitely an abuse of power, (and) it’s definitely a breach of human rights,” the co-chair of the Bar Council’s human rights committee told Malay Mail Online when contacted yesterday.
For officers to merely say that they are following instructions from higher-ups is “wholly inadequate and totally unacceptable”, he continued.
Khoo added that it is also a breach of natural justice when a citizen is not given prior notice and informed of the reason of the Immigration Department’s decision, or given the opportunity to challenge it before it is imposed.
“The question is, why they are put on the list? Are they suspected of something, is there a fear that they are fleeing the jurisdiction to avoid prosecution, or is some government agency afraid that if they were to leave the country to go overseas, they might engage in activities that are detrimental to national security?” he asked.
“But in cases of people like Tony Pua, they have not been convicted of anything, which goes back to why they are being stopped…The question is, is there some investigation going on or is there some other reason why authorities ask to prevent you from leaving,” he said.
Yesterday, the Immigration Department stopped Pua from boarding a flight to Yogyakarta, Indonesia at KLIA2. Shortly after, PKR’s Rafizi Ramli said he has also been flagged, according to the department’s website.
Lawyer Syahredzan Johan said all citizens are guaranteed the right to various liberties including the freedom of movement and the right to travel abroad, although some restrictions may be legally imposed.
These include individuals blacklisted for defaulting on their federal study loans or taxes, declared bankrupts, and those made to surrender their passports as a bail condition while facing trial.
Beyond these, Syahredzan said the Director-General of Immigration must state the reasons why and under what law the prohibition is being imposed.
“There is no general power under the Immigration Act for the DGI to exercise its discretion as it sees fit; the power must be found within a specific legislation.
“If not, then any action by the DGI to prevent Tony and Rafizi, or anyone else for that matter, from leaving the country would be ultra vires the powers of the DGI and would constitute a violation of their fundamental liberties,” the civil liberties lawyer said in an email to Malay Mail Online.
Melissa Sasidaran, another lawyer who covers civil liberties cases, also said that for authorities to simply cite orders from superiors instead of a specific law when imposing a travel ban would only give the “impression that this is a politically motivated abuse of power”.
“They must immediately inform the public reasons for the travel ban and also reveal to us who else have been banned for expressing concerns about the 1MDB scandal,” she said, referring to the financial controversy which Pua and Rafizi had strongly criticised.
During a press conference held after he was prevented from exiting Malaysia, Pua asserted that Immigration officials did not provide any explanation for the restriction on him beyond saying they were ordered by superiors to do so.
Pua is not currently on trial for any offence or identified as the subject of a police investigation, but has been repeatedly implicated as among the Malaysians who allegedly met former PetroSaudi International executive Xavier Andre Justo.
Thai police arrested Justo on June 22 on charges of blackmailing PetroSaudi , an international company based in Saudi Arabia linked to the 1Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) scandal.
Aside from Pua and Rafizi, Datuk Tong Kooi Ong, the owner of The Edge Media Group and another of those linked to Justo, has also been flagged by the Immigration Department.
The Immigration Department’s director-general has not responded to Malay Mail Online’s request for clarification on the travel bans imposed.