Rights group Lawyers for Liberty (LFL) today took the National Registration Department (JPN) to task for its treatment of four stateless siblings denied citizenship, accusing it of harassing them and further denying their rights despite an invitation to the department to provide "the appropriate advisory services" related to the application procedure for citizenship.
LFL director Zaid Malek also slammed JPN for claiming that Aziq Fadyan, Azreen Batrisya, Azzahra Batrisya, and Azalea Batrisya had "refused to cooperate" in resolving the issue.
"What transpired yesterday was truly appalling; the siblings who came to JPN believing that they would get their citizenship issue resolved were instead met with officials bent on making the process difficult and further denying their rights," he said.
"From the outset yesterday, JPN attempted to deny them the assistance of their lawyer to fill up the forms and in discussing with officers. It was only after repeated pleas that JPN finally allowed their lawyer to assist the siblings. What was the need for this?"
The four siblings were born in the country to Malaysian father Fadil Saharudin and an Indonesian mother.
At a press conference on Oct 17, LFL said their parents' marriage was solemnised in Indonesia and Malaysia in 1998, prior to their births.
It also said they were entitled to citizenship under several provisions of the constitution, namely Article 14(1)(b) and Part II Second Schedule, Sections 1(a) and 1(e).
JPN had responded to the press conference by inviting the siblings to the department "to obtain the facts of the case and its actual status, then conduct research and provide the appropriate advisory services related to the citizenship application procedure".
"JPN's process is always subject to the Federal Constitution and the laws in force," it said in a statement later that day.
It issued another statement yesterday, saying its officers had examined some of the "evidence" presented, including copies of the parents' marriage documents.
"However, some important details in the copy of the document could not be read as they were not clear and vague," it said.
It said the eldest sibling had also submitted citizenship applications for his younger siblings through the citizenship status verification method, without the necessary supporting documents.
"JPN advised the applicant to first obtain written confirmation from the relevant embassy of the details of his mother and father's marriage which took place abroad," it said.
"After obtaining confirmation and proving that the marriage took place before their birth, amendments to the citizenship status on their birth certificates can be made at JPN."
It said it had also advised them to find an applicant with citizenship status to apply for citizenship status verification on their behalf.
"However, the applicant refused to cooperate with the advice given by JPN. Therefore, it is impossible for JPN to consider the application based only on a copy of a document that is unclear and the important details of which cannot be read," it said.
"It is also impossible for individuals who are not yet citizens to apply for citizenship for their siblings."
Zaid however said that there was no legal reason why the siblings or any stateless individual could not submit the applications themselves.
"The constitution and laws impose no such condition. Those qualified for citizenship under Article 14(1)(b) of the Federal Constitution are entitled themselves to submit the application to JPN," he said.
"There is no need for a 'middleman' with Malaysian citizenship to apply on their behalf."
He also disputed JPN's claim of insufficient details on the parents' marriage certificate, saying a copy of the document, certified true under seal, had been submitted to the officials.
"It is false that the four siblings were uncooperative with JPN," he said.
"On the contrary, JPN came with baseless objections, making the process fraught and difficult."
He said JPN had also attempted to deny the siblings the assistance of their lawyer in filling up the forms and holding discussions with officers, and had only allowed this after repeated pleas.
"Throughout the process at JPN yesterday, instead of offering advice, multiple officers including the director-general of JPN himself, Zamri Misman, continuously harassed the four siblings by accusing them of making the process difficult by involving lawyers and blamed them for not getting the 'proper advice' from JPN before holding a press conference," he said.
"At one point, even with lawyers present, they attempted to hand over the foreigners' citizenship application form which was clearly the wrong form as the siblings are Malaysians as of right."
Describing JPN's treatment of the siblings as "inexcusable", he said they qualified for citizenship by virtue of their Malaysian father, in line with Article 14(1)(b) and the Second Schedule Para 1(a) of the constitution.
"Their Malaysian father and their Indonesian mother were married prior to the birth of the siblings. As legitimate children, they inherit the citizenship of their father under the constitution," he said.
Adding that they had submitted their applications yesterday with all the necessary legal details, he said there were no grounds for any further delay in their case.