Lawyers for Liberty says the Immigration Department DG has the right to prevent individuals under investigation or with pending criminal charges from leaving the country

KUALA LUMPUR: It is a misunderstanding of the law to assume that a travel ban can only be imposed once a person has been charged in court, said Lawyers for Liberty executive director Eric Paulsen today.

He added that it was also incorrect to say that until any person has been charged or found guilty by a court of law, he or she has the freedom to leave the country.

“The immigration authorities are fully empowered to take steps to stop persons under police investigation, from escaping the law including by blacklisting suspected individuals whether they are nationals or otherwise.

“Preventing persons under investigation or who may have pending criminal charges from leaving the country is a lawful act and is not an overreach of the immigration’s power,” he said in a statement.

He also pointed out that the individuals blacklisted are implicated or persons of concern in serious crimes including corruption, abuse of power, criminal breach of trust, giving false evidence and offences against public justice.

They are also implicated in numerous other offences involving billions of public funds that are currently under investigation.

As such they are rightly barred from leaving the country, he said.

He was referring to the travel ban imposed on former prime minister Najib Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor.

Immigration authorities issued an overseas travel ban on Najib and Rosmah on Saturday, as the new government started investigations into a multi-billion-dollar graft scandal at 1MDB.

Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said he had prevented Najib from leaving the country and said yesterday that the government was very close to charging Najib in court.

Critics have questioned the legal basis for the travel ban, with Gerakan Youth deputy head Andy Yong saying it was “untenable for the prime minister or immigration authorities to restrict an individual’s right to travel without giving any written reason”.

He also cited a Federal Court decision by Gopal Sri Ram in 2009, in which he said the judge had held that “personal liberty” included the right to travel abroad.

However, Paulsen said under the Immigration Act 1959/63, the immigration director-general had “a wide discretion” to restrict the movement of any individuals entering or leaving the country.

Paulsen also said that the travel ban imposed on Najib and others involved in the 1MDB scandal was different from the ban slammed on people like cartoonist Zunar, DAP leader Tony Pua and former Bersih 2.0  chairperson Maria Chin Abdullah.

“These individuals were the targets of obvious politically-motivated travel bans, and certainly not suspected of any genuine crimes.

“It is a case of false equivalence to suggest that their persecution in any way resembles what is happening now.”

Paulsen also stressed that the Immigration DG must adhere to due process when exercising his discretion to blacklist anyone.

He added those blacklisted must be given the reasons for the ban, and allowed to challenge the decision.