KUALA LUMPUR: The chairman of the Philippines’ Human Rights Commission claims he was denied entry into Malaysia initially yesterday due to his attendance at a Bersih-related event last year.
Chito Gascon said this was the explanation given to him by a Special Branch officer at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport where he was stopped by immigration officials upon arrival.
“She (the immigration officer) said there was a notice by police,” he said.
“I was told to go the immigration office where a man introduced himself as being from the Special Branch. He said it was due to my participation in an illegal assembly, which was Bersih-related,” he added.
He said he was eventually allowed to enter after waiting for six hours at the airport.
Garcon was here last year after being invited to attend the presentation of South Korea’s 2016 Gwangju Prize for Human Rights to Bersih 2.0 for pushing electoral reforms in Malaysia.
He said the annual awards ceremony, usually held in South Korea, was organised in Malaysia as Bersih chairman Maria Chin could not travel overseas.
Gascon spoke about his experience to reporters on the sidelines of a two-day conference on “Democracy in Southeast Asia: Achievements, Challenges, Prospects”, organised by the Kofi Annan Foundation and the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam) here today.
The Filipino human rights activist is scheduled to deliver an address at the event tomorrow.
Gascon said he remembered Bersih members announcing that they were going to the police station after the ceremony last year, but he did not go along and remained in the hotel.
“That is the only incident I recall that might have caused this (denial of entry),” he said.
The Bersih members had gone to the police station after a car belonging to Chin’s son was splashed with red paint, two days after she and her three children received an Islamic State-styled death threat.
Gascon said even though he was surprised at being initially disallowed entry, it turned out to be a pleasant experience as he could walk about in the airport.
“I was not detained. I was at the airport. I was not questioned. Both the immigration and the police were polite and respectful,” he said.
“Five other Filipinos were with me and informed our contacts (Suhakam) about me… I had noodles and met with Suhakam,” he said, adding that they later clarified his status with the authorities.
He said he always enjoyed coming to Malaysia and did not encounter such complications during his visit to Kuala Lumpur last October.
Meanwhile, Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph said Gascon touched down at KLIA at 5.30pm and spent his time in the transit area.
At the current conference, Gascon is listed as a panellist for the session titled “Key role of CSOs (civil society organisations) in ensuring respect for political rights, including elections.”
The event features addresses by former Asean secretary-general Surin Pitsuwan, former Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Gusdurian Network Indonesia founder Alissa Wahid, Indonesian Election Commission head Hasyim Asy’ari and former United Nations under-secretary-general Noeleen Heyzer.