Malaysia has apparently begun to enforce a travel ban on those who discredit or ridicule the government.
People guilty of “running down the government… in any manner” will be blocked from leaving the country for three years, in order to protect the country’s image overseas, a source told local paper The Star.
Immigration Department director general, Datuk Sakib Kusmi, confirmed the policy was in place in an email to the paper. He also said having a passport to travel was a privilege, so the government retains the right to revoke it for dissidents.
It appears the government has already moved to block high-profile political activist Maria Chin Abdullah, chairwoman of the Bersih movement, which has been holding large scale protests in the capital to push for the resignation of current Malaysian leader, Najib Razak.
Najib has been embroiled in a corruption scandal involving state fund 1MDB, which is currently being investigated.
Chin said in a tweet posted Sunday that she wasn’t able to travel to South Korea, where she was due to receive an award.
Minister Lim Guan Eng of the Penang state on Wednesday demanded an explanation from the federal government, saying the ministers in other states were not informed of the policy, and he wasn’t aware if the Cabinet signed off on it.
He told reporters that “only communist countries, dictatorships and countries without democracy” denied its citizens the freedom to travel overseas.
In December last year, another member of Bersih, Hishamuddin Rais, was prevented from leaving at the airport. Bangkok-based human rights group Forum-Asiasaid he was not given a reason for his ban, but noted that Hishamuddin was due to travel to South Korea as part of the group’s delegation.
Malaysia already blocks bankrupt individuals and some with outstanding court cases against them from leaving the country, but this is the first time it’s publicly added political dissidents to the blacklist.
It has some 820,000 Malaysians on the list.
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