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Lift unlawful Sarawak entry ban on political activists

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Sarawak Bersih urges the Sarawak state government to immediately lift the entry ban on former Bersih office manager Mandeep Karpal Singh, Bersih chair Thomas Fann, former Bersih chairs Maria Chin Abdullah and Ambiga Sreenevasan, Bersih resource person Wong Chin Huat, Suhakam commissioner Jerald Joseph and many other activists including Colin Nicholas and Jannie Lasimbang.

Mandeep, in his capacity as a special functions officer for Multimedia and Communications Minister Gobind Singh, was stopped at the Bintulu airport on the evening of 17 May, due to an entry ban since February 2016.

He was eventually allowed to stay in Bintulu for three days, presumably under Section 68 of the Immigration Act, which exempts persons temporarily entering Sabah or Sarawak “for purposes of Federal Government”.

What deserves the attention of the Sarawakians and Malaysians is the obvious abuse of state immigration power in the original ban imposed on Mandeep and other activists.

The immigration control power of Sabah and Sarawak, which is part of the Malaysia Agreement 1963, was clearly to protect the residents of the states from economic competition from Malaysians from other states including Singapore (before its exit) and not to shield politicians or political parties in the states from competition.

Hence immediately after Section 66 in the Immigration Act, which provides for such power, Section 67 on “Right to enter East Malaysian State for exercise of political rights” makes clear that “subsection 66(1) shall not have effect in relation to a citizen entering the East Malaysian State for the sole purpose of engaging in legitimate political activity; but the burden of proof that a person is entitled to enter the East Malaysian State under this section shall lie on him”.

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The ban on Mandeep and other activists when they entered Sarawak only to “engage in legitimate political activity” is therefore arbitrary, unlawful and a blatant abuse of power by Sarawak’s previous state governments or administration.

They imposed the ban not to protect Sarawakians, but to protect themselves from legitimate political activism for causes such as free and fair elections, environmental protection and indigenous peoples’ rights.

Sarawak Bersih urges the Gabungan Parti Sarawak government to lift the ban on all political activists and to pledge to exercise Sarawak’s special powers only for the purpose of upholding Sarawak’s state interests.

We believe that all Malaysians including Sarawakians would want to see a proper and lawful use of such existing immigration rights. This will put Sarawak on a moral high ground in its negotiation with the federal government on the implementation of the Malaysia Agreement 1963.

The late Chief Minister, Adenan Satem, had promised in December 2015 to review the ban. Chief Minister Abang Johari should not delay in carrying out the late Adenan’s promise.

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