IT was recently reported that the Government had revoked the passports of Ali Abd Jalil and Alvin Tan. The two individuals are in Sweden and the United States of America respectively, trying to gain political asylum from what they claim to be political persecution against them.
Many learned persons have questioned the legality of this move by the Government. They say that there is no express provision for the Government to revoke the passports of citizens in any of the relevant laws.
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This writer has had a cursory look at these laws and tends to agree with the opinions of these learned persons. Furthermore, by revoking the passports of these two individuals, the Government has interfered with their constitutional liberties and a case may be made that doing so is unreasonable, especially if one considers that both of them have not been found guilty in any court of law.
There are those who urge the Government to go even further. They want the Government to “revoke” the citizenship of these two individuals. It was reported in the media that Umno Youth deputy chief Khairul Azwan Harun urged the Attorney-General to apply to court to revoke the citizenship of the two.
This is constitutionally impossible. Ali, an activist, and sex blogger Tan are born Malaysians, they are what is termed “citizens by operation of law.” This type of citizen automatically becomes Malaysian when they are born, without having to go through a formal process of gaining Malaysian citizenship. Most of us are citizens of Malaysia in this category.
Contrast this with those who obtained Malaysian citizenship either by registration or naturalisation. These citizens become Malaysians through the Government.
For the first category of citizens, which is the vast majority of us, citizenship is guaranteed by the Federal Constitution. Our citizenship cannot be “revoked”, unless the person obtains citizenship of another country, exercised a right that is only exclusive for citizens of that country, or renounces his citizenship.
Those in the second category are liable to have their citizenship revoked if they are proven to be disloyal or other circumstances. But Ali and Tan do not come under this category so their citizenship should be intact.
All these provisions have been clearly stated in the Federal Constitution. There is no doubt or ambiguity. It is not a matter of interpretation, but one of fact.
Whether we agree or not with what Ali and Tan have said is not the issue here. What is being raised here are the legal principles; between what is right and wrong from the point of view of the law.
This is the problem with that state of constitutional awareness in this country. Our understanding of the Federal Constitution is very low. Even public personalities have issued statements that are wrong in law. To compound matters further, some lawyers have even gone on record to give the impression that the Government does have such powers. But as lawyers, should they not be more familiar with the Constitution?
Yet, the Federal Constitution is by far the most important document in the whole country. It should be understood and read by all. The Federal Constitution is the framework of our nation, and without it, our nation will fall.
Members of Parliament, judges and others have all taken the oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. We, too, when we recite the Rukun Negara, have pledged to uphold the Constitution. But how can we uphold it when we do not know what is in the Federal Constitution in the first place. Yet we are supposed to live by the principles in the Rukun Negara as Malaysians.
This is why constitutional awareness and education are so important. We need to go back to the Federal Constitution, and understand it. The Bar Council, through its MyConstitution campaign, has long advocated for the Federal Constitution to be taught in schools as part of the syllabus. Political parties and other organisations also need to ensure that their members are constitutionally aware.
Of course, it may be difficult for people to just open the Federal Constitution and start reading. But the MyConstitution campaign has simplified the Federal Constitution into nine booklets to make for easier reading and understanding.
The writer hopes that the Government will include the Federal Constitution into the national education syllabus. Hopefully with constitutional education, instances of politicians issuing statements that are clearly wrong will be a thing of the past. And even if such practices still occur, the people will not be so easily misled.
* The writer is member of the Bar Council Constitutional Law Committee which he chaired for two years before this.See also The Sancity of Citizenship