Travel ban imposed on Maria Chin in 2016 within permissible grounds, apex court told

Maria Chin Abdullah was barred from travelling to South Korea on May 15, 2016, to receive an award for Bersih 2.0.

PUTRAJAYA: The travel ban imposed on Maria Chin Abdullah previously was within the permissible grounds as it involved questions of government policy and national interest with potential effects on the diplomatic relationship with South Korea, the Federal Court heard today.

Senior Federal Counsel Shamsul Bolhassan, who appeared for the home minister and Immigration director-general (DG), in reply to Maria’s lawyer Gurdial Singh Nijar’s submission in the appeal proceedings, said:

“The Immigration DG had deposed that the ground for the blacklisting was that the appellant had ridiculed the government at different forums and illegal assemblies.”

Referring to case-law in Government of Malaysia and Ors v Loh Wai Kong, Shamsul said the Federal Court had decided in that case that personal liberty in Article 5 of the Federal Constitution did not confer on the citizen a fundamental right to travel overseas.

In that case, he said it was held that the government may stop a person from leaving the country.

Maria was barred from travelling to South Korea on May 15, 2016, to receive an award for Bersih 2.0. However, the travel ban was lifted two days later. She then filed a judicial review to challenge the Immigration DG’s decision to bar her from travelling. She lost her case in the High Court and Court of Appeal.

On Feb 19, 2019, the Federal Court granted Maria leave to appeal.

In his submission earlier, Gurdial submitted that the home minister and the Immigration DG could not rely on general provisions in the Immigration Act to justify the travel ban on Maria to infringe her fundamental right to free speech and expression.

He said by relying on a departmental internal circular to prevent Maria from going overseas in 2016, the respondents had restricted her freedom of speech and assembly enshrined under Article 10 (1) of the Federal Constitution.

“The respondents justified the travel ban on grounds that the appellant (Maria) was slated to speak in the People’s Movement Forum and had organised the Anti-Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement assembly,” he said.

The lawyer said neither Section 3(2) nor Section 4 of the Immigration Act 1959 conferred the power to the Immigration DG to impose a travel ban or to issue a circular that carried with it the force of law, while Article 10 (2) of the Federal Constitution stated that only Parliament and not the Executive could restrict the freedom of speech and assembly.

He also submitted that the exclusive right of Parliament to impose restrictions on free speech and expression, however, was only valid if it fell under the permissible restrictions such as public order or morality or in the interest of the security of the federation.

Although the travel ban had been lifted on Maria, she should not be left without a remedy, the lawyer said, adding that she should be awarded monetary compensation in the light of constitutional violation committed by the respondents.

Gurdial was submitting before the Federal Court’s seven-member bench in the appeal brought by Maria, who was a former Bersih 2.0 chairman, against a travel ban imposed on her.

The bench led by Chief Justice Tengku Maimun Tuan Mat reserved judgment to a date to be fixed.

The other judges were Court of Appeal President Rohana Yusuf and Federal Court judges Nallini Pathmanathan, Abdul Rahman Sebli, Hasnah Mohammed Hashim, Mary Lim Thiam Suan and Harmindar Singh Dhaliwal.