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Straight A's no guarantee of a future for stateless youth born on Merdeka Day

Mohamad Omar Mokhtar has been denied citizenship due to problems with his birth mother's identity card.

Nur Hasliza Mohd Salleh
2 minute read
Mohamad Omar Mokhtar holds up a copy of his birth certificate (right) and the document denying him citizenship at a press conference in Petaling Jaya.
Mohamad Omar Mokhtar holds up a copy of his birth certificate (right) and the document denying him citizenship at a press conference in Petaling Jaya.

Mohamad Omar Mokhtar obtained an excellent score of 4.0 in his Form Six STPM exam but worries that he will not be able to further his studies as he has been denied citizenship by the Malaysian government. 

Omar was born on Merdeka Day 20 years ago but his application for an identity card was denied due to issues with the identification documents of his birth mother, who is from Sabah. 

"The National Registration Department (JPN) said there was a problem," Lawyers for Liberty adviser Latheefa Koya said at a press conference in Petaling Jaya today. 

She said checks by the department found that the identity card of Omar's birth mother was invalid or suspected to be fake. 

"Whatever the case, it is not Omar's fault," she added. 

"Why punish him for what was done wrong? We do not know who is to blame in this affair, whether it is his mother or someone else." 

Omar's birth parents tied the knot in Selangor without a valid registration process. They later divorced, and in 2015 Omar was adopted by his aunt who lived in Kedah. 

At that point, the adoption application was approved by JPN. Omar's first birth certificate put him down as a Malaysian citizen. 

After finding his birth mother's IC invalid, however, the department issued him a new certificate, this one stating that he was not a citizen. 

According to Latheefa, this was not the correct way to retract Omar's citizenship. 

"JPN can retract a person's citizenship if he or she has citizenship elsewhere," she said. 

"But for Omar, this was clearly not the case." 

Under the Second Schedule of Article 14, Part Two, Section 1(e) of the Federal Constitution, she said, Omar was truly a stateless individual and not a foreigner or a citizen of another country such as Indonesia or the Philippines. 

A stateless person is considered a citizen if he or she is born in Malaysia. 

"But JPN and the government advised him to apply under Article 15(a) for citizenship under special circumstances," Latheefa said. 

"JPN can give citizenship to people like Omar. If the government truly has the power to do this, it should be done.

"But Omar has been waiting for seven years now." 

Latheefa also spoke of several other cases involving stateless individuals, some of whom had been waiting for citizenship for more than 13 years. 

The issue of concern is that Article 15(a) can only be applied to those below 21 years of age. 

Omar will turn 21 in 2023. 

Latheefa said that Malaysia, as a country that had signed many international conventions pledging to protect children, had a duty as a civilised nation and part of the United Nations.

"But we still don't adhere to what we ourselves have agreed to," she said. 

"Ultimately, the constitution recognises that stateless children are protected. 

"But they refuse to consider Omar as a stateless individual. Instead, they say he is a foreigner. A foreigner from which country? We are not told."