"Passport Blacklist" by Immigration Department
Friday, 09 March 2001 12:00am
The Bar Council notes that issues related to immigration are a cause of much concern lately. However the Immigration Department will have to ensure that measures it implements do not violate the rights of citizens. As a service department the Immigration authorities must ensure that they do not unnecessarily inconvenience the travelling public.
Hence the Bar Council is very concerned with news that the Immigration Department has implemented a departmental policy that passports of those convicted of serious criminal offences both at home and abroad will be impounded by the Immigration Department for between 2 and 10 years.
It is reported that the new procedure implemented by the Department would affect those who have been found guilty of offences including, inter alia, inciting riots, drug trafficking, robbery, murder, smuggling and immoral activities.
Article 9 of the Federal Constitution provides for the freedom of movement of an individual. This constitutional right should not be limited to movement within the country but should also extend to movement overseas. The Bar Council considers the issuance of a passport to a Malaysian citizen as a fundamental human right and not a mere privilege. Impounding the passport of anyone for whatever reason would infringe this constitutional right.
Impounding the passports of those convicted of serious criminal offences would render such persons to double punishment as they would have by then served their term of imprisonment after conviction and yet be subjected to a further restriction by the Immigration Department.
What amounts to “a serious criminal offence” has not been defined and would appear to be subject to the exercise of discretion by a department official. The period that the passports of those convicted of serious criminal offences will be impounded (of between 2 to 10 years) is a very long period and there is no indication of criteria, if any, relied on to determine the period of disqualification. By comparison, it is noted that even a person convicted of an offence and sentenced to imprisonment for more than a year may not stand for election to Parliament for a period of 5 years only.
It is further reported that when the Department feels that anyone who is convicted of inciting riots and threatening public order is no longer a threat or a menace to society, then the Department will issue a proper passport. This leaves much to be desired as the Department will be taking upon itself to decide when a person is a threat or a menace to society. Such a discretionary power has a very great potential for abuse.
The Bar Council also considers the decision to deprive those who have lost their passports due to natural disaster or robbery as particularly harsh as the loss was not due to their fault.
Should any such policy be considered desirable then it should be done by amendments to the Immigration Act passed by Parliament after thorough debate. Any such deprivation of a citizen’s rights should only be imposed by a Court of Law after due proof of an offence.
The citizen’s right to travel freely is too precious a right to entrust to the departmental discretion of an Immigration Department Official.
Dated this 9th day of March 2001
Haji Sulaiman Abdullah