Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) refers to Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail’s statement on 4 December where he defended an immigration officer who mistreated a person for her inability to speak Malay during a passport renewal process.
He then went further to state that mastering Malay is non-negotiable as it is the official language as stipulated in the Federal Constitution.
There is no such requirement that a Malaysian citizen routinely applying for a passport must show proficiency in Bahasa Malaysia. To impose such a condition is unlawful and high-handed and will create alarm amongst the public.
Saifuddin, in citing the Federal Constitution in defence of this inexcusable behaviour of the immigration officer, has omitted to read the entirety of the Constitution, in particular Article 14 and the Second Schedule of the Federal Constitution regarding citizenship by operation of law, which clearly does not state knowing the Malay language as a requirement for citizenship as of right.
He also tried to rely on purported studies conducted by his ministry that claims that language proficiency is a requirement for citizenship in other countries. However, his reference to this is utterly misconceived, as such requirement would refer to citizenship by naturalisation or registration, which is entirely different from citizenship as a matter of law.
In any event, our Constitution has no such requirement for those who are entitled to citizenship as of right, and he cannot cite supposed examples of other countries in contravention of the highest law of our land.
It is disturbing that a home minister embroiled in the controversial amendments to the Constitution regarding citizenship appears to lack a basic grasp of citizenship laws under the Constitution. He also does not seem to understand that citizenship by operation of law is separate from citizenship by registration or naturalisation.
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The woman and her daughter, who by all accounts are Malaysian by virtue of operation of law, should not have been subjected to the harassment and ridicule they encountered from the officer.
It is appalling that the minister would go to such lengths to defend the unlawful and high-handed actions of an immigration officer who went beyond his legal authority to scrutinise language proficiency, which is irrelevant to the process of renewing passports.
Neither the home minister nor any of the enforcement authorities under its purview can simply add stipulations beyond what is required under the law. It is imperative that the Ministry of Home Affairs, as an executive body, ensures that the law and the Constitution are complied with.
To this end, there must be an investigation and appropriate action taken against the immigration officer for their unlawful and outrageous conduct; the government must also make sure that all protocols in force in the Immigration Department are in compliance with the law.
We also urge the home minister to not spread misconceptions of the citizenship laws under the Constitution. It is his solemn duty to uphold the law, and as such he must fully grasp the law before uttering any public statement that may alarm and mislead members of the public.
Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty