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Putrajaya 'stooping lower than past BN govt' in plan to amend citizenship laws, says lawyers group

Calling it 'the worst amendments to citizenship laws since Merdeka', Lawyers for Liberty says the plan will punish abandoned children and other categories of stateless people.

Staff Writers
3 minute read
Lawyers for Liberty says the proposed amendments 'will create a large new class of stateless persons' in the country. Photo: Bernama
Lawyers for Liberty says the proposed amendments 'will create a large new class of stateless persons' in the country. Photo: Bernama

Rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) has slammed the government's proposal to amend the constitution that will see the removal of a provision protecting individuals from becoming stateless, days after more than 100 NGOs and activists warned the home ministry against secretly changing the laws without consulting stakeholders.

LFL said removing Section 1(e) of the Second Schedule Part 2, which he said protects individuals from becoming stateless, would be "the final nail in the coffin" for stateless people in Malaysia, including children and those born in Malaysia who had lived in the country for generations but were denied a blue MyKad due to a lack of proper documentation. 

"It is shocking and devastating that the Pakatan Harapan (PH) political coalition which claimed to fight for reform and stateless persons while in the opposition is now responsible as the government of the day for these unacceptable and unjustifiable amendments," said LFL director Zaid Malek.

"Even the old Barisan Nasional government, which was regularly criticised by PH for being unjust, did not stoop so low. If these amendments are passed, it will be a black day for Parliament and the nation."

He described the proposed amendments as "undoubtedly the worst amendments to citizenship laws since Merdeka".

On Wednesday, more than 100 organisations and activists involved in the fight for equal citizenship warned Putrajaya against any attempt to quietly amend citizenship laws that could victimise tens of thousands of stateless children, despite the government's pledge to go ahead with a constitutional amendment to help those born abroad to Malaysian citizen mothers.

Although the government has agreed to amend the constitution to solve cases of children being denied citizenship because they were born abroad to their Malaysian mothers, there have been worries that other categories of stateless people – children born out of wedlock, those adopted by Malaysians as well as abandoned children and those from generational undocumented families – could now be denied citizenship under plans being discussed to restrict current laws.

"No state should offer to make such amendments only in return for curtailing or restricting the citizenship rights and entitlements of another group," the groups said on June 21.

LFL said the original constitution had granted citizenship to anyone born in the country under the principle of "jus soli".

In 1962, however, the constitution was amended to include the requirement for one parent to be a citizen as well. 

"To prevent the danger of persons being rendered stateless due to this new requirement, Section 1(e) was introduced into the constitution. 

"To recklessly remove Section 1(e) now will cause untold suffering and render countless thousands into stateless persons. It is a massive step backwards, in breach of the basic human right of citizenship of persons born in this country who are not citizens of any other country."

Zaid warned of the creation of "a massive new class of stateless citizens", adding that this would be economically and socially damaging as well as "misguided, foolish, and horrendously cruel".

He also hit out at the proposed amendment to Section 19B Second Schedule Part 3, which he said would remove the right of foundlings as abandoned children or orphans to citizenship. 

"Instead, foundlings will be at the mercy of the home ministry as to grant of citizenship," he said. 

This is despite a landmark ruling by the Federal Court in 2021 to grant citizenship to a teenager who was abandoned at birth by his unknown mother and adopted by a Malaysian couple.

Zaid said the government "appears to be using the excuse of solving the issue of children born abroad to Malaysian mothers to bring in a series of dangerous, unjust and cruel amendments. 

"These amendments will create a large new class of stateless persons. It will create a massive new problem and magnify the long unresolved issue of statelessness in Malaysia," he added.