Brave New World

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Worrying about the travel bar

BOY, was I worried last week. This paper reported that the Immigration Department was going to bar those who disparaged or ridiculed the Government from travelling abroad.

And those who did so overseas would be barred from travelling upon their return home. For up to three years!

Crikey. This was most concerning. In my job I speak about laws and government policies all the time; at home and abroad.

We, lecturers, go to seminars and conferences and we discuss ideas.

So, even if I take special care to say only the sweetest things about the Government, I could still be faced with questions like “Why is your government-owned strategic development company facing so much trouble?”.

What a conundrum. Do I spout some inanity (“err ... that is a good question, Malaysia is truly Asia. Thank you.”) or give my opinion and risk being unable to eat authentic Nasi Gudeg for three years?

I suppose I could say something brilliant like “Look, is that an ostrich in the aisle?”, and then make my escape.

And furthermore, The Star reported that these disparaging comments can be done in any manner. Good lord, does that include private conversations?

What if I am in a café in Madrid and my Spanish host asks me, “Señor Azmi, why does your Government prevent people from going overseas to get human rights awards?”

What do I say then?

“Manuel, I am Malaysian, I cannot answer your question. Please pass the paella.”

Then fortunately, the Deputy Minister of Home Affairs comes swooping in and says that there will be no ban on travelling for critics of the Government.

Phew, that’s a relief then. I guess those guys in the Immigration Department just got together and decided amongst themselves to make up this policy.

I did not realise that government agencies had so much autonomy that they could make far-reaching unconstitutional, anti-human rights-type decisions without the OK from the minister or his faithful deputy.

Just shows what I know.

But then the deputy minister goes on to say that the ban only applies to those who are a threat to national security and who have violated the Constitution.

So I guess Maria Chin is a national security threat and habitual violator of the Constitution then.

Now, that is a weird classification of people: “violator of the Constitution.”

It is as though the Constitution is a high-born Roman lady in danger of being attacked by a ravaging Visigoth.

How can a private citizen violate the Constitution?

Hey, we are not the ones who make laws that blatantly go against the Fundamental Liberties listed in Part 2 of the Constitution.

We are not the ones who say that this is an Islamic state when the Constitution says no such thing.

We are not the ones who obtusely say that there is no separation of powers because the Constitution does not use the term “separation of powers” (even though the executive, legislature and judiciary are each given separate chapters and have clearly defined powers).

It is virtually impossible for a private citizen to violate the Constitution.

Short of perhaps companies that treat their workers like slaves or practise gender bias.

So the idea that citizens who violate the Constitution can have their passports taken away is laughable.

It’s as though by throwing big words into the mix, this ludicrous and unlawful attack on our freedom of movement is all hunky dory.

Really, all this business about keeping us stuck at home is ridiculous.

Do we need to go overseas to belittle the Government when their actions can be spread far and wide via existing technology?

Why worry about citizens belittling or disparaging them abroad when they do it so well by themselves?

  • Azmi Sharom ( is a law teacher. The views expressed here are entirely the writer’s own.

Tags / Keywords: Azmi Sharom , columnist

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