PETALING JAYA: Amnesty International (AI) is the latest organisation to condemn the government following the court ruling last Wednesday that declared travel bans are permissible under the Immigration Act.
Urging Malaysian authorities to stop using open-ended arbitrary travel bans to threaten and restrict the movement of political figures and human rights defenders, the international human rights organisation said it was concerned over the motivation behind the ban.
“The ruling may provide cover for the government to arbitrarily impose or expand travel bans targeting political opponents and human rights defenders.
“It also comes at a time when the government is escalating its crackdown on dissent.
“The persecution and imprisonment of Malaysia’s human rights defenders and political adversaries has intensified since the ruling coalition lost the popular vote in general elections in 2013,” AI said in a statement today.
On July 5, the Court of Appeal ruled that the government has absolute discretion to bar any citizen from travelling abroad without giving any reason or notice, dismissing the Petaling Jaya Utara MP’s challenge against his 2015 travel ban.
The Court had also ruled that holding a passport was a privilege and that the Constitution does not protect the right to travel overseas.
AI said the government crackdown, which included severe restrictions on the human right to expression and peaceful assembly, has now started to follow a trend with the restriction on travelling overseas imposed on human rights defenders and government critics.
“This ruling allowing arbitrary travel bans will continue to hamper the work of human rights defenders, such as cartoonist Zunar, Bersih chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah and activist Hishamuddin Rais, all of whom have been unable to leave the country for more than a year.
“Travel bans have also been imposed and lifted without notice against outspoken government critics such as PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli,” AI said.
AI added that the arbitrary travel bans against government critics are a blatant violation of the rights to freedom of movement and association and a heavy handed attempt to stifle the right to freedom of expression, all enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Malaysian Federal Constitution.
Article 13(2) of the UDHR states: “Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.” Travel bans against human rights defenders further stigmatizes their work and severely harm their ties with the global human rights movement.”
Barring of foreign activists
AI also addressed its concern over the barring of Singapore human rights defender Han Hui Hui from entering Malaysia last month.
Han had been blocked from entering the country after having been labelled an “undesirable immigrant” by the home minister.
“AI notes that this is not the first time the government has barred peaceful activists from entering Malaysia.
“In recent years, Hong Kong political activist Joshua Wong and Indonesian human rights defender Mugiyanto Sipin have been prevented from visiting the country, as well”.