HASSAN Al Kontar, the Syrian man who had been living in KLIA2 since March, is currently in police custody. I am sure you have heard of this man; after all, his story is interesting and has parallels with a particularly saccharine movie. Except there’s no Catherine Zeta Jones.
Due to a series of immigration issues, Al Kontar ended up in limbo in KLIA2 with no valid passport and absolutely no desire to return to Syria. Why does he not want to go home?
Well, according to him, he originally did not want to go back because he would have been forced to join the army. Something he did not want to do in the civil war-torn country as he did not want to kill his fellow Syrians. A conscientious objector then.
Now, if he does go back he will doubtlessly be punished for his political stand. Amnesty International reports that there is a high likelihood that not only will he be punished, but his life may well be in danger too.
What he wants is to seek asylum in Canada. A process that will take two years. Currently, the Malaysian authorities are investigating him and holding him under the Immigration Act.
The Deputy Home Minister has also said that he was offered to be sent to friendly countries to wait out his application to go to Canada.
This, it is said by the Deputy Minister, was an offer he rejected. I do not know if this is the case as there has been no statements from Al Kontar, being detained as he is.
Let’s look at this from the legal perspective. From the angle of international law, Al Kontar does appear to fit the description of a refugee.
He faces the possibility of serious harm if he returns to Syria because of his political views (anti-war) and he will most definitely not get any protection from his government. In fact, they are the ones who may cause him harm.
This being the case, what can Malaysia do? Unfortunately, Malaysia is not obliged to follow the international law as we are not party to the Refugee Convention.
This does not mean, however, that we should just send him back. The situation in Syria is horrific and it is morally reprehensible to send a person to a place where harm may befall him simply because he refuses to kill.
There is no doubt that Al Kontar has breached the Immigration Act. However, the Act does say that the minister has the discretion to exempt him from the provisions of this law.
This is something I urge the government to do. There is the possibility of allowing him to stay here while waiting for Canada to approve his application (the UNHCR in Malaysia has already registered him).
What is imperative is that he must not be sent back to Syria or any other country that may even remotely consider sending him back to his homeland.
On another issue, I noted with some amusement that Rais Yatim complained about the possibility of Wan Hamidi Hamid being appointed the Bernama CEO. This is because he may politicise the institution.
This is quite laughable – is there any news agency in this country that is not politicised?
Besides, and this is an important point, Bernama is a government agency. It has often been mistakenly claimed that Bernama is like the Malaysian Reuters. This is simply not true.
Reuters is a private body and is thus independent from any government. Not so with Bernama.
It is more akin to RTM, seeing as both of them are directly under the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia. Thus it is not surprising that the current government would want someone they like to head Bernama.
Besides, let’s take a look at Bernama’s Board of Directors, shall we? Currently, we have four permanent members from government departments and one from UiTM.
There are six permanent representatives of newspapers and they are all from papers which are either owned by the current opposition or had in the past shown extreme political fondness for the previous government. If Hamidi is chosen, he won’t exactly be joining a PH-loving bunch of folks.
Perhaps the objection to Hamidi is because he used to be top dog at the Rocket (DAP’s paper). This is true, but he also used to work for the New Straits Times, The Star and The Sun.
In other words, he is a newspaper person through and through. The experience is there. What truly matters now is not whether he has close relations with one of the parties in the ruling coalition, but how he does his job, whether he will have the integrity to make Bernama as impartial as possible – something which under the previous government would have been extremely difficult.
Unless Bernama (and RTM) are changed to follow the BBC model, it is pointless to expect any government to choose anyone to head it unless it is someone of their choosing and liking.
It is far more important that they choose someone who is able, competent and honest. Only time will tell if Hamidi is that person; and he needs to be given the chance to show that he is.