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Home minister must not usurp citizenship rights in constitution

Lawyers group Lawyers for Liberty takes Saifuddin Nasution Ismail to task over his statement that the power to grant citizenship is the exclusive right of the federal government.

Zaid Malek
3 minute read

We refer to the statement issued by Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail on Oct 1 in which he claimed that the home ministry was considering over 9,000 citizenship applications for approval as of September this year.
Shockingly, he also stated that the power to grant citizenship is the sole and exclusive right of the federal government.
This is patently false, and a threat to the citizenship rights of Malaysians established since Merdeka. It is nothing short of an attempt to usurp the rights guaranteed to Malaysians under the Federal Constitution. Article 14 of the Federal Constitution confers citizenship as of right if one falls within the criteria listed under Part I and Part II of the Second Schedule. There is no room for interference or obstruction by the federal government should one fall within the criteria listed.
This unlawful stand of the home minister is the root cause of the obstinate refusal by the National Registration Department (JPN) to comply with the law in cases of stateless Malaysians born in this country. There are tens of thousands of cases where those who are citizens as of right under the constitution are denied citizenship despite falling squarely within the criteria listed under Part I and Part II of the Second Schedule of the constitution.
Meanwhile, decisions of the courts have been routinely ignored by the home minister, such as the Federal Court decision in the case of "CCH & Anor v Pendaftar Besar Bagi Kelahiran dan Kematian [2022]" which recognised the rights of foundlings to citizenship. This has led to these thousands being left in the wretched state of being stateless.
Though JPN's action of refusing to comply with citizenship laws under the constitution had been a longstanding issue even before the current government was formed, the Pakatan Harapan (PH)-led government is now making matters worse by proposing amendments to the citizenship laws under the constitution in an attempt to restrict the citizenship qualifications. 

These amendments will remove key protections under Part II and Part III of the Federal Constitution which would dash any hope of those who are currently stateless of getting their citizenship recognised, as well as create a new generation of stateless individuals. Those who by right would have been Malaysians will be deprived of their citizenship should these amendments come to pass.
Despite massive outcry against the proposed amendments, the government has remained silent and the home minister has confirmed that they are still moving ahead with the proposal by tabling it to the rulers. There has been no reasonable response by the ministry on the plight of the stateless should the amendment come to pass.
Those who are stateless are not so by choice and are victims of circumstance. The stateless are deprived of basic rights to healthcare, education and livelihood. Many are stateless in the first place due to the gross administrative failures by JPN and the home ministry. Instead of addressing this, they are now exacerbating the problem with these amendments. This is nothing short of cruel and inhumane. The promises of reform ring hollow when those in need of help are ignored.
We urge the government to act in accordance with the constitution and cease all attempts to usurp the rights of citizens granted under the constitution. Their current course is reckless and unlawful. The government must also immediately retract its proposed amendments to the constitution that jeopardise stateless Malaysians. The promise of reform must encompass them as they are by right Malaysians under the law.

Zaid Malek is director of Lawyers for Liberty.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.