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Sabahan, teenager win battle for citizenship

A three-man Federal Court bench has dismissed the government's application for leave to pursue its appeals to prevent the two from receiving Malaysian citizenship.

3 minute read
The Palace of Justice in Putrajaya which houses the Federal Court. Photo: AFP
The Palace of Justice in Putrajaya which houses the Federal Court. Photo: AFP

The legal battle by a Sabah-born man and a 16-year-old girl to be given citizenship ended in victory today with their recognition as Malaysian citizens.

This followed a decision by a three-man Federal Court panel dismissing the government's application for leave to pursue its appeals to prevent the two from receiving Malaysian citizenship.

In the case of the Sabah-born man, Wong Kueng Hui, the panel led by Chief Judge of Sabah and Sarawak Abang Iskandar Abang Hashim found that the application for leave to appeal by the director-general of the National Registration Department (JPN), the home ministry and the government of Malaysia did not fulfil the threshold requirement under Section 96 of the Courts of Judicature Act 1964.

Abang Iskandar, who sat with Federal Court judges Rhodzariah Bujang and Mohamad Zabidin Mohd Diah, said even if leave was granted, it would have little chance of success on the merits.

Wong was born in 1995 at Hospital Keningau, Sabah, to a Sarawakian man and a woman believed to be a foreigner. His father died when he was 10 years old, and his mother, seven years later.
In his judicial review application, Wong said he did not have any documents on his mother’s identification except that she was of Indonesian descent. 

He had sought information from the Indonesian embassy in Kuala Lumpur, but there was no record of his mother having been registered as an Indonesian citizen.

He also checked with the Philippine embassy in Kuala Lumpur but found no record of his mother being a citizen of that country, either. 

Wong, 27, won his bid for citizenship at the High Court in 2019 after the court held that he was a stateless person.

The Court of Appeal, in a majority ruling, upheld the High Court's decision, prompting the JPN director-general, home minister and government to file leave for appeal.
Meanwhile, the same panel of judges dismissed a similar application by the home ministry secretary-general, the JPN director-general and the government to proceed with their appeal in the case of a 16-year-old girl who was born in Perak to a Malaysian father and a Filipino mother.

Her application to obtain citizenship was rejected as she was considered illegitimate because her parents' marriage was registered after her birth. Her father subsequently obtained a declaration of legitimacy from the High Court in 2018 to declare his daughter the legitimate child of him and his wife.

Both the High Court and Court of Appeal ruled in her favour in her application to be declared a Malaysian citizen.

Meanwhile, Azimah Hamzah, a 35-year-old woman born to a Muslim couple from Cambodia in a refugee camp in Cherating, Pahang, succeeded in obtaining leave to appeal at the Federal Court to be given Malaysian citizenship, following her failed attempts at the High Court and Court of Appeal.

Azimah, who argued that she was a stateless person with no Cambodian citizenship who had been living in Malaysia, is seeking automatic citizenship under Article 14 (1) (b) of the Federal Constitution.

She claimed that both of her parents and her four siblings had obtained Malaysian citizenship.

Abang Iskandar granted Azimah leave to appeal on one question of law on whether a child born of refugee parents who have acquired Malaysian citizenship is entitled to be registered as a Malaysian citizen as provided under Part II of the Second Schedule of the Federal Constitution.

The panel heard all three appeals separately in online proceedings today. 

A team of lawyers led by Haijan Omar represented Wong while Annou Xavier and Larissa Ann Louis were counsel for the teenager and a team of lawyers led by Gopal Sri Ram acted for Azimah.

Senior federal counsel Liew Horng Bin represented the government in the cases of Wong and the teenager, while senior federal counsel Nik Mohd Noor Nik Kar appeared for the government in Azimah's case.