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Groups to hold day-long protest outside Parliament over citizenship amendments

The protest will be held on March 25, the day that the home minister tables the controversial amendments to citizenship provisions in the constitution.

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Former stateless person turned activist Wong Kueng Hui (4th from right) with other civil society members address the media in Kuala Lumpur, March 20, 2024.
Former stateless person turned activist Wong Kueng Hui (4th from right) with other civil society members address the media in Kuala Lumpur, March 20, 2024.

Civil society groups have expressed frustration with Putrajaya, as government leaders appear bent on pursuing controversial amendments to citizenship laws despite warnings that they will result in a new class of stateless people in the country. 

Their spokesman Wong Kueng Hui said that having exhausted all channels, they would hold a gathering outside Parliament on March 25 to protest the amendments to be tabled that same day by Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail. 

"We have met the home minister, we have attended a consultation session, we have submitted a memorandum to Parliament. 

"Therefore, we will take more aggressive steps to voice our objections to these cruel, oppressive and regressive amendments," Wong, who was himself stateless before successfully mounting a constitutional challenge against the government, told a press conference in Kuala Lumpur today.

Also present were representatives of Sabah-based NGOs Borneo Komrad, Anak Sabah, Sekretariat Mahasiswa Tolak Pindaan Regresif and the Society for Equality, Respect and Trust for All.

"We call on all Malaysians to join us in opposing these regressive amendments," Wong said, adding that the gathering would start at 10am and end at 8pm after the breaking of the Ramadan fast. 

Show the data, Saifuddin told

Wong also challenged Saifuddin to prove his claim that Rohingya refugees were abandoning their newborns at hospitals just to get Malaysian citizenship for their babies.

"If Saifuddin does not present valid data and statistics, then these regressive amendments are not based on facts and objectives, but only use sentiment. He does not need to use irrelevant arguments and reasons to blind the eyes of the people," he said.

Saifuddin made the claim to back his argument that the current provision of automatic citizenship for abandoned children and foundlings was being abused by illegal immigrants. 

Critics have warned that removing the provision would render orphans born in the country stateless, without any constitutional recourse to prove they are eligible for citizenship.

In a bid to shore up MPs' support for the amendments, Saifuddin held a session yesterday with opposition lawmakers from Perikatan Nasional.

He claimed that the MPs had been receptive to the amendments but gave no details.

Yesterday, former Bar Council president Ambiga Sreenevasan slammed Pakatan Harapan for going ahead with the amendments, saying it was a shameful move for the coalition which in the past had promised to help thousands of stateless children in the country obtain citizenship.

"We are waiting for the other reforms. And what are they doing? They are going after the babies!" Ambiga said, referring to five amendments which have triggered criticism for effectively removing the right to automatic citizenship for abandoned children.

The amendments have been packaged with a much welcomed amendment to give equal rights to Malaysian mothers married to foreigners when it comes to automatic citizenship for children born abroad.

They will effectively remove the automatic granting of citizenship to abandoned babies or orphans born in the country, whose mother or parents cannot be traced, while those previously entitled to citizenship under the constitution would be at the mercy of the home minister. 

The move has alarmed rights groups who point out the increasing number of stateless children in the country, who have been denied citizenship despite being born to Malaysian parents. 

Wong said the amendments would victimise stranded children, illegitimate children, adopted children and the children of parents with permanent resident status, in addition to those  who have lost their documents.

"These people should not be equated with foreigners at all," he added.

Meanwhile, Mukmin Nantang from Borneo Komrad said it was not easy for undocumented parents to deliver children at government hospitals.

Mukmin, who runs a school for undocumented children in Sabah, said these parents would have to pay more than RM3,000 before their children are handed over.

He said this showed that the claim of foreigners deliberately abandoning their newborns at hospitals for the sake of citizenship was untrue.

Wong meanwhile said the constitution already has a provision to stop the granting of citizenship to those who are ineligible.

He cited Article 15(A) which gives the government the discretion to grant citizenship to children under the age of 21.

He also expressed hope that MPs from Sabah and Sarawak – both states with a high number of stateless children – would reject the amendments, adding that the citizenship issue should be studied in depth before changes are proposed.