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Sunday September 29, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday September 29, 2013 MYT 11:54:33 AM
by lisa goh
Can your citizenship be revoked? Unless it was granted to you by the state, constitutional experts say ‘No’.
THEY are hardly three peas in a pod, yet Bersih chairman Datuk S. Ambiga, rapper Namewee and Perkasa president Datuk Ibrahim Ali do have one thing in common – all three have had someone, at some point, demanding for their citizenship to be revoked.
But can the state revoke the citizenship of a person who was born Malaysian? Constitutional experts say no.
Lawyer and constitutional law activist Syahredzan Johan says there are generally two categories of citizens – those who are born Malaysians (post 1963), and naturalised citizens.
“The first category refers to those who are automatically citizens when they’re born, like you and me. There is no formal process to make you a citizen. We’re not talking about the JPN (National Registration Department) registration… that’s just administrative process, it doesn’t make you a citizen. What gives you the right to be a citizen is the Federal Constitution.
“The other category covers those who are made into citizens. This means that they were previously citizens of other countries, and later given Malaysian citizenship by the government,” Syahredzan explains.
Former international walker and long distance ace Yuan Yufang, who was born in Beijing, is an example of a naturalised citizen.
For those in the first category, their citizenship is protected and guaranteed under Part III of the Federal Constitution.
“Even if you do something disloyal, or give the country a bad image… that cannot be a reason for your citizenship to be revoked.
“For example, those who were involved in the Al-Ma’unah movement, they were charged and convicted of waging war against the Yang di-Pertuan Agong… even their citizenships cannot be revoked,” he explains.
The only way a person who has been born a Malaysian citizen can have his citizenship revoked is if he obtains the citizenship of another country, as Malaysia does not recognise dual citizenships.
“If you have obtained citizenship from another country, or if you claim certain rights which are only available to the citizens of that country, then your Malaysian citizenship is liable to be revoked.
“For example, if another country only allows its citizens to vote, and you voluntarily exercise those rights… if the Malaysian government finds out, then it can revoke your citizenship. Apart from this, there is no way a citizenship can be revoked,” he says.
However, the provision differs for those who are naturalised citizens.
Constitutional lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar says a naturalised or registered citizen can have his citizenship revoked, under Article 25 of the Federal Constitution, if he has “shown himself by act or speech to be disloyal or disaffected” towards the country.
His citizenship can also be revoked if he is found to have assisted the enemy in a war, or if he, within the first five years of being granted citizenship, has been sentenced (in any country) to jail for not less than 12 months, or fined not less than RM5,000 (or the equivalent in the currency of that country), and has not received a free pardon.
Alternatively, if he has resided outside the country for a continuous period of five years and has not, at any time, “been in the service of the Federation” or registered annually at a consulate of the Federation his intention to retain his citizenship, his citizenship can be revoked.
This is certainly interesting to note, as certain individuals and groups have taken it upon themselves to demand the revocation of their fellow Malaysians’ citizenship in recent years.
Many individuals, including Ibrahim, former Malacca Chief Minister Datuk Seri Mohd Ali Rustam, and even former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad have called for Ambiga’s citizenship to be revoked, following her involvement with Bersih.
In reaction, Penang Gerakan leader Baljit Singh demanded for Ibrahim’s citizenship to be revoked, saying the Perkasa chief has committed treason in questioning the “King’s decision to grant a royal audience to Ambiga”.
Earlier this year, Dr Mahathir reportedly said the Government needed to amend the constitution if it wanted to strip the citizenship of lawyers such as Ambiga.
Just last month, Perkasa demanded for rapper and filmmaker Namewee’s citizenship to be revoked after he uploaded a video clip titled Tokok: 017 Double Standard, criticising the Government for practising double standards towards the Chinese.
Are there any legal repercussions for doing so?
“The constitution guarantees the freedom of expression. People can say what they want subject to the laws of this country (defamation etc),” Malik says.
Syahredzan agrees, saying: “Depending on what has been said, a defamation suit can be filed, because a call to revoke a person’s citizenship implies negativity… that he is not worthy to be a Malaysian… it is possible.”
He adds that the issue of citizenship is a very serious one.
“Any amendment to the constitution requires a two-thirds majority in Parliament, but an amendment to Part III has an additional safeguard. It also requires the consent of the Conference of Rulers, as provided for under Article 159(5).
“That is how serious the constitution views the issue of citizenship,” he concludes.
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Government, citizenship, rights, Federal Constitution
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