KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 17 — Putrajaya’s unprecedented move to strip a Singaporean man of his permanent residence (PR) status for allowing a group of Buddhist tourists to meditate in a Muslim prayer room at his resort, was excessive and unnecessary, several lawyers said today.
The lawyers also warned the federal government that it had set itself up for a potential lawsuit, should the man choose to challenge the revocation.
Eric Paulsen, co-founder and advisor of legal group, Lawyers for Liberty, told The Malay Mail Online that the government’s announcement today seemed to be done in “extreme haste” and is an irrational move.
“Because what [the home minister] had done is punishing the resort operator, through the back door.
“So now even before he is found guilty, the authorities have found ways through the back door to punish him,” he said over the phone.
The holiday resort owner in Sedili Besar, near Kota Tinggi, was released on police bail yesterday, after being remanded for four days to facilitate investigations into him allowing the resort’s surau to be used for a Buddhist religious ceremony.
Johor police had said that the investigation papers of the case were, however, being finalised and had yet to be submitted to the public prosecutor for further action.
Today, Home Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi announced that the Singaporean’s PR has been revoked, effective immediately.
Paulsen said the home ministry’s action has a serious affect on the Singaporean, and that this matter should not be taken lightly.
“He should at least be afforded the opportunity to be heard.
“It is now open for him to challenge this decision in court,” the lawyer said.
Civil liberties lawyer Syahredzan Johan also deemed the home minister’s action as “excessive and unnecessary”.
“We have to remember this person has not been charged in court for anything and he has not been tried or found guilty of anything.
“When the government revokes his PR status what the government is essentially doing is punishing him before anything has been proven against him, even before he is allowed to defend himself,” he told The Malay Mail Online over the phone.
“They should have charged the person in court and try to prove the case against him, instead of going about this way because this is arbitrary.
“This is excessive and arbitrary and disregarding his right to be heard,” he said.
Syahredzan said the government should consider the repercussions from such a harsh decision.
“If the government wants to encourage people to come to Malaysia, here we have this person coming to Malaysia to operate a resort, when most Malaysians have gone to Singapore to work, we need these kind of people to work and invest in the country.
“We cannot have a culture of arbitrary punishment without allowing the person to defend themselves,” he said.
He acknowledged that the government has the jurisdiction to revoke one’s PR visa but he said those powers must be exercised accordingly.
“At least [the resort operator] should try to assert his rights in court rather than just allow something like this to happen,” he said.
Paulsen also said that the decision today will affect foreigners considering to have businesses here or foreigners whom might consider Malaysia as a second home.
“The government must a take a more measured approach in handling these cases against Islam even though we understand the government’s position that Islam is the official religion.
“This decision has a serious repercussion in terms of economic interests, investments, tourism and how the world sees Malaysia.
“I urge the authorities to not overreact and act emotionally, and to look through the rules and regulation to provide justice,” he said.
Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, a prominent civil rights activist and former Bar Council president expressed her shock over the Home Minister’s announcement
“Shocking move! Better have guidebook for foreigners coming here. If anyone still wants to come,” she posted on her Twitter account just minutes after the news was announced.