The barring of Steven Ng from entering Sarawak has attracted condemnation from West Malaysia and DAP Sarawak! Below is a statement by SUARAM & Bersih-both NGOs from West Malaysia. DAP Limbang has also issued a statement on this unglamorous affairs! Radio Free Sarawak has already done an interview with Steven. Go to Radio Free Sarawak’s web site to download the audio here.
Selective Prosecution And Abuse Of State Powers:
Another Malaysian Barred From Entering Sarawak
SUARAM and Bersih are appalled that another Malaysian and also Native Customary Rights (NCR) land activist, Steven Ng, has been barred from entering Sarawak.
Steven was stopped by immigration officials at Kuching International Airport on 3 April and was told that he could not be let in under instructions from the state security department. He was given an official letter of refusal which stated “…pursuant to Section 65(i)(a) of the Immigration Act 1959/63, the State Authority has directed that no pass be issued to you to enter the State of Sarawak…” while not providing a reason for the ban. Immigration officials then later tried to hand Steven over to airport security. After protests by Steven, immigration officials relented and left him alone, after which he flew back to Kuala Lumpur.
We are concerned with this latest incident as it shows a continuing pattern of abuse of powers by the Sarawak state government to stifle dissent by restricting freedom of movement for some Malaysian citizens on either entry to or exiting from the State. There have been many cases of Sarawakians who have had their rights to travel abroad denied and activists from Peninsula Malaysia who are barred from entering Sarawak.
We acknowledge that Sarawak has a different set of immigration rules from Peninsula Malaysia as a result of an agreement signed during the formation of Malaysia in 1963 which gives the state exclusive control over who enters the state. However, this immigration autonomy has been blatantly abused by the Sarawak state authorities to stifle dissent.
In many instances, no official reason is given. Most of the individuals only find out that they have been blacklisted when they are stopped at Immigration Department checkpoints or fail to get their passports renewed. Most of them were informed informally by officials, that their being blacklisted is due to their involvement in “anti-logging activities” or pertaining to the protection of Sarawakian forests, resources and indigenous peoples’ rights. For instance, Jannie Lasimbang herself was banned entry Sarawak due to her trip to the state in 1994 on a Penan fact-finding mission. Other Malaysians who have been barred from entering Sarawak also include elected representatives such as Subang Member of Parliament, Sivarasa Rasiah, who was stopped at immigration and denied entry just last month.
The timing of these recent cases, just weeks before the state elections, raises suspicions that the BN-led state government is abusing its powers to shut out critics. Ex-Suhakam vice-chairman Simon Sipaun in December last year had cautioned that Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud will not hesitate to use the immigration powers of the state to keep out “prying eyes” from the state. Allegations of misuse of power and corruption raised by civil society groups and international NGOs such as the Bruno Manser Fund have largely been ignored or denied by the government and no investigations have been initiated.
We call on SUHAKAM to make public their inquiry on this matter, in particular on the arbitrary abuse of the State’s immigration autonomy as a tool to stifle dissent; and to make substantive recommendations which are consistent with SUHAKAM Chairperson Hasmy Agam’s comments when asked on SUHAKAM position on entry restriction, that this is an issue for SUHAKAM to address because we all are Malaysians.
Furthermore, we demand that the Sarawak state government recognises the rights of all Malaysians to freedom of movement and to stop the practice of blacklisting individuals from entering Sarawak.
Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)
Gabungan Pilihanraya Bersih dan Adil / Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections (Bersih)