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A Humble Submission

Published: Monday April 7, 2014 MYT 8:55:00 AM
Updated: Monday April 7, 2014 MYT 8:58:46 AM

The sanctity of citizenship

Recently, non-governmental organisation Isma called for the revocation of citizenship of those who “criticised their own country over its handling of the MH370 tragedy”.

According to a statement by the NGO’s vice president, which was reported by the press, those who criticise the Government “… are traitors whose citizenships should be revoked. I also advise that they move to a country which they prefer.”

According to Jean Jacques Rousseau, the legitimacy and political authority of the State exists because of a “social contract”, whereby the people give up some of their inherent freedoms and submit to the State in order for the State to protect their remaining freedoms. A man or woman becomes a citizen of the State as a result of this “social contract” and as such, it is incumbent upon the citizen to question the affairs of the State.

Isma’s call for revocation of citizenships is not novel. Many other ethno-nationalist NGOs have made similar calls on charges of “disloyalty” or “treason”, when the act in question is merely to question, disagree with or protest against the Government.

In reality, these calls are unconstitutional as the right to nationality is protected and citizenship is one of the great guarantees of our Constitution.

It is not the Government that grants us citizenship. The Government does not have the prerogative to strip a citizen of his or her citizenship, unless in accordance with the Constitution. For the vast majority of Malaysians, who are Malaysians from birth, citizenship is a right which one may be deprived of only if one has acquired another citizenship or has exercised a right in another country which is exclusive to the citizens of that country.

Apart from those two circumstances, one’s right to citizenship is protected.

Contrast this position with the small minority of Malaysians who become citizens through the formal process of naturalisation. People in this situation apply to become citizens and if requirements are fulfilled, the Government may grant them citizenship. For these people, citizenship can in fact be liable to revocation if they are “disloyal” or no longer of good character.

The Constitution allows Parliament to make laws that restrict the questioning of provisions relating to citizenship, found in Part III of the Federal Constitution. Parliamentary immunity is also not accorded to those who question Part III’s provisions. Amendments to the Constitution generally require two-thirds support of the members of both Houses of Parliament, but amendments to Part III cannot be made without the consent of the Conference of Rulers. This effectively means that Parliament cannot simply amend the provisions relating to citizenship in the Constitution.

Regardless of how we have historically defined who is or isn’t a citizen of this nation, the fact is that citizenship is equal. And any attempt to invoke birthright as a way to differentiate between different citizens ignores the constitutional reality that citizenship is a right, not a favour from the State.

Article 8 of the Federal Constitution expressly states that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law. Remember also that Article 153 is not a “right” but a special position accorded to certain ethnic communities, which allows for the reservation of quotas for these ethnic communities. Thus, there is no such thing as “second class citizens” in this country.

The sanctity of citizenship and nationality must be preserved and upheld, along with the rights attached to them. The labelling of those who criticise the government as “traitors” goes against the very notion of citizenship.

Remember what was written by Jean Jacques Rousseau in his seminal work The Social Contract, Or Principles of Political Right: “As soon as any man says of the affairs of the State ‘What does it matter to me?’ the State may be given up for lost.”

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: Federal Constitution, citizenship, Isma, revocation of citizenship

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