Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet) is shocked that it has been reported that Malaysia has recently revoked passports of about 68 Malaysian men, women and/or children, who now are allegedly not even in Malaysia, based on what can only be safely said to be a ‘suspicion’ of their involvement with a militant group - the Islamic State (IS).
“...Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said their involvement with the militant group was uncovered by intelligence... “They no longer have travel documents as Malaysian citizens...” Ahmad Zahid, who is also Home Minister, told reporters...” (The Star, Aug 7, 2016 - Gov’t cancels passports of 68 IS supporters)
The impact of the Malaysian government’s actions on its own citizens is not only unjust but draconian. The cancellation of passports would reasonably make all these people ‘illegal’ immigrants, who will risk the possibility of arrest, detention, imprisonment and/or deportation. Now, if the laws of the country where these affected Malaysians are, are like those in Malaysia, it may also mean that they may even be subjected to whipping for being ‘undocumented’ migrants.
Without a valid passport or travel document, these Malaysians will have no way to travel beyond borders - and they may be forced to resort to using the services of ‘people smugglers’ or some other illegal means just to travel beyond borders, simply to get back to Malaysia and to their families.
Obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
The minister, in the said news report, indicated that children will be affected by this action, when he cited as examples the case of “two families with young children”. Madpet reminds Malaysia of its commitment to upholding the ‘best interests of the child’ and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). The best interest of children in Malaysia, whose parents have been affected by this draconian action, should also be of concern.
Presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law
If these 68 persons have allegedly broken Malaysian laws, then Malaysia must be interested to bring them back to Malaysia, to be charged and accorded the right to a fair trial in an open court.
It is troubling that the government seems not at all bothered about bringing them back home to face justice. In fact, in the said The Star report, the minister said that at least two families had said that they “want to come home”. The minister also allegedly said, “Those who had left the country to go and serve the militant group did not deserve to return home.”
“...Ahmad Zahid added that there will be no compromise with those who have betrayed their country and people. “We will disown them,” said Ahmad Zahid, adding that the government does not want “ideological criminals” in the country...’ Sadly, the news report fails to mention the specific law that these persons have allegedly broken, or what the minister meant by the phrase ‘ideological criminals’.
Justice demands that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty in court. Everyone deserves the right to be heard, and a fair trial.
Arbitrary administrative action of revoking passports unjust
This revocation of the passports of Malaysians is just like detention without trial, where the administration (or the executive) arbitrarily decides and do, and this is very wrong and most unjust. Now, in these case, the victims are literally ‘abandoned overseas’ - making it very difficult for them to even go and file a judicial review against the government’s decision to revoke their passports, or consider other legal actions concerning the remarks made about them.
The revocation of the passport of a Malaysian citizen, without first according the proposed victim the right to be heard is unacceptable. This revocation seems to be simply an administrative action, a decision of the prime minister and/or his cabinet - not even pursuant to any court order. Zahid Hamidi revealed in the media report that the “passports were cancelled two weeks ago after Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak directed the move...”
At this moment and time, the credibility and competency of Malaysia’s own investigation capacity is in doubt. In the news report, the minister says that the evidence in support was “uncovered by intelligence” - but sadly there was no mention as to whether it was Malaysian intelligence, US intelligence or some other international ‘intelligence’ organisation.
The minister goes on to imply that there are photos - “..."But what they are doing now is washing toilets and sweeping roads there. I have photos to prove it.” From what has thus far been revealed by the minister in the said news report, sadly fails to show that there is any basis to revoke their passports. There is a possibility that they may simply be victims of human trafficking, or simply migrant workers?
Administrative actions can, many a times be based on allegations or un-tested evidence, and that is most dangerous. That is why there is a need for a fair trial - when the prosecution can present their evidence, the accused will have a right to be heard, and the courts will decide whether there sufficient evidence to convict a person of a crime. Sentence follows a conviction by a court of law.
Actions that will affect the rights, freedoms and liberties of persons, should not be simply based on the ‘decisions’ of the executive arm of government, or some minister or public officer. It is best that such actions like this revocation of passport be carried only pursuant to a court order, where there will be every opportunity accorded to potential victims to have the right to be heard and/or to appeal the decision.
Alleged M’sian perpetrators of crime should be brought back to be tried
In this modern age, the freedom of movement within the country and out of a country should be considered an inalienable right for every person, especially citizens. People today move in and out of countries for work and business. This freedom of movement and the right to a passport should not simply be violated simply by administrative decisions. It must only be done pursuant to a court order, after the alleged victim has been accorded the right to be heard.
The deprivation of the right of a citizen to return to Malaysia is a violation of human rights. Article 12(4) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) states that, ‘No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter his own country.’
Madpet urges Malaysia to do the needful to ensure the re-entry of all the said 68 Malaysian citizens (and any other persons) who Malaysia may have arbitrarily caused their passports to be revoked, so that all these Malaysian citizens, who allegedly committed crimes, will face justice in Malaysia. They should all thereafter be charged and accorded a fair trial.
Madpet also says that, in the event, it is proven that the government actions of revoking passports were found to wrong and/or baseless by a court of law, just compensation ought be paid to these victims who suffered by reason of Malaysia’s administrative actions.
CHARLES HECTOR is coordinator for Malaysians Against Death Penalty and Torture (Madpet).