Freedom to move

SO you come from Muar in the state of Johor. You now live in Petaling Jaya, Selangor. You work in Kuala Lumpur. Every day, to get to work, you use the New Pantai Expressway. To come home from work, because it is usually very late, you take the Federal Highway to save on the toll. Once a month, you go back to Muar via the North-South Highway, passing through the states of Negeri Sembilan and Malacca along the way.

Your daily routine to work and your monthly journey back to your hometown are examples of you exercising your rights under the Federal Constitution.

Article 5 of the Federal Constitution provides your right to life and personal liberty. Intrinsic within this right is the right to pursue your livelihood. Thus your right to ply your trade in Kuala Lumpur is protected by Article 5.

Meanwhile, Article 9 provides that citizens, like you, have the right to freedom of movement. You have the right not to be excluded or prohibited from any part of the country. You also have the right to reside in any part of the country. Thus, you were exercising your Article 9 rights when you moved to Petaling Jaya and again when you cross state borders to get to work or go back to Johor.

The State can actually restrict your freedom of movement. The Constitution allows it. Your freedom to move freely in the country or to reside any part thereof can be restricted by law for the purpose of national security, public order, public health or for the punishment of offenders.

So for example, if you are found guilty and sentenced to prison, you cannot claim that your freedom of movement has been violated, even if those prison walls restrict your freedom. Or, if you are quarantined because of a contagious disease that you are suffering from, laws can be used to restrict your movement as this would fall under the category of public health.

But, you may ask – if you truly have freedom of movement, why is it that you must go through immigration in Sabah or Sarawak if you are from Peninsular Malaysia? Why is it that some activists and politicians have been denied entry into those states?

The answer is because of the special position of those states compared to other states, as found in the Federal Constitution. When Sabah and Sarawak agreed to form Malaysia with Malaya and Singapore in 1963, they ensured that there were several safeguards and special interests accorded to them.

Sabah and Sarawak have control over entry into their borders along with residence. This was agreed to prior to Malaysia’s formation and as such should be respected. Yet, although the governments of these states have the right to deny entry into their respective states, the power to do so must be exercised reasonably. It would be unreasonable and irrational to arbitrarily deny Malaysians from entering into these states without just cause, especially if the reasons are political.

What about your right to move outside of Malaysia? Do you have the right to do so? The answer is yes, of course you do. Such a right falls under Article 5 of the Federal Constitution. Article 5 can also be restricted by law, so your right to leave Malaysia may be restricted either because you are a bankrupt, because you have not paid your PTPTN loan or your passport has been seized as part of conditions of bail, amongst others. But again, there must be a law to restrict it and it must be reasonable.

There is no law that allows the authorities to cancel a passport of any citizen. Since there is no law, if there is such an instance it would be unlawful and contrary to Article 5. Your passport is also connected to your citizenship. So if, as was suggested by the authorities a few months ago, you find your passport revoked because of your political activities outside of Malaysia, you certainly should challenge the same in Court.

Another important point regarding the crossing of Malaysia’s borders is that every citizen has the right to enter Malaysia from outside. No citizen can be denied entry, as long as he or she can prove that he or she is a citizen.

We often take these rights for granted. We exercise them without realising that we are actually doing so. Certainly, we can get by without knowing anything about our constitutional liberties. But when our rights are taken away or violated, that is when our understanding of the Federal Constitution will be of the utmost importance. If not, we might not even realise that that our rights are violated or denied.

So go forth, fellow Malaysians, move freely and stay anywhere in this Federation of ours. Your Constitution protects you!

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own
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