Press Statement
Immigration travel ban on suspects in criminal probes is justified
16 May 2018

Lawyers for Liberty notes the concern over the overseas travel blacklisting of former Prime Minister Najib Razak, Rosmah Mansor, and other former high-ranking officials of the previous administration by the Immigration Department.

The Immigration Department is a law enforcement agency, tasked among others, to safeguard the borders of Malaysia. Under the Immigration Act 1959/ 63, the Director-General has a wide discretion to restrict the movement of any individuals entering or leaving the country.

It is a misunderstanding of the law to assume that a travel ban can only be imposed once a person has been charged in court or if there are specific provisions in the law barring a class of persons from travelling overseas, for example unpaid taxes, PTPTN student loans and declared bankrupts under the respective legislation.

It is incorrect to argue that until any person has been charged or found guilty by a court of law, he or she has the freedom to leave the country, as the immigration authorities are fully empowered to take steps to stop persons under police investigation, from escaping the law including by blacklisting suspected individuals whether they are nationals or otherwise.

Preventing persons under investigation or who may have pending criminal charges from leaving the country is a lawful act and is not an overreach of the Director-General’s power. It should be noted that the individuals blacklisted are implicated or persons of concern in serious crimes including corruption, abuse of power, criminal breach of trust, giving false evidence and offences against public justice, and numerous other offences involving billions of public funds that are currently under investigation, and they are rightly barred from leaving the country.

It is imperative to note that this current scenario is vastly different from the travel ban cases involving the likes of cartoonist Zunar, then opposition Member of Parliament Tony Pua, and former Bersih chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah. These individuals were the targets of obvious politically-motivated travel bans, and certainly not suspected of any genuine crimes. It is a case of false equivalence to suggest that their persecution in any way resembles what is happening now.

However, we maintain that in all cases including the current ones, the Director-General must adhere to due process when exercising his discretion to blacklist i.e. by providing his reasons and in doing so, the affected parties can then challenge the decision.

Released by:
Eric Paulsen
Executive Director
Lawyers for Liberty