Ambiga fails in bid to challenge her ban to enter Sabah

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PUTRAJAYA: The Federal Court today dismissed an application by former Malaysian Bar president Ambiga Sreenevasan to challenge her ban to enter Sabah, ruling the state authorities of Sabah and Sarawak have absolute power over immigration.

“The decision in the case of Sugumar Balakrishnan v Pihak Berkuasa Negeri Sabah in 2002 is still good law,” said Chief Judge of Malaya Ahmad Maarop who chaired a 3-man bench.

The other judges were Justices Abu Samah Nordin and Azahar Mohamed.

Ambiga was refused entry into Sabah in 2014.

Lawyer Gurdial Singh Nijar, who appeared for Ambiga, told reporters the court’s decision affirmed that both states had absolute and unfettered discretion to determine who could enter their territories.

“They need not state the reason for refusing entry under Section 67 of the Immigration Act even for legitimate political activities,” he said.

Gurdial, a former Universiti Malaya law professor who had taught the three judges, hoped there would be another opportunity to revisit the decision on Sugumar.

In that case, Sugumar, a peninsula-born lawyer with a practice in Kota Kinabalu, sought the reinstatement of his entry permit to Sabah.

However, the Federal Court ruled that the right to personal liberty guaranteed by Article 5 of the Federal Constitution could not be construed in broad, generous terms, and as such denied Sugumar’s application.

Ambiga applied for a judicial review of Sabah’s refusal to allow her to enter the state on Nov 25, 2014, for a roadshow with pro-unity group Negara-Ku, of which she was a patron.

She then wrote to the state immigration authorities to seek the reason for barring her entry to Sabah but none was given.

Shamsul Bolhassan, who appeared for Putrajaya and the Home Ministry, said Article 74 of the constitution gave Sabah and Sarawak the immigration power to regulate entry to the two territories.

Sabah state counsel Mohamed Hanafiah Kassin said the immigration power for the Borneo states was unique and granted under a special provision when Malaysia was formed.

He said Ambiga was making a “backdoor attempt” to challenge the decision.

Gurdial said the phrase “backdoor attempt” was unfair as he was making a frontal challenge of the provision in the Immigration Act that was against the rights accorded to citizens under the constitution.