Malaysia's Immigration Department can now reportedly ban government critics from travelling abroad. The measure comes amid a crackdown on critics following calls for Prime Minister Najib Razak to resign.
The new regulation, which was enforced several months ago, allows the department to impose a travel ban of up to three years on government critics at the request of an enforcement agency, Malaysia's "Star" newspaper reported on Wednesday.
"Anyone who runs down the Government or "memburukkan kerajaan" in any manner will be barred from going abroad," a source from the Malaysian Immigration department said, adding that only the Immigration Department director-general will be authorized to look into their appeals. "Memburukkan kerajaan" means "speaks against the government."
Anyone found to have discredited the government while overseas will also be handed a three-year travel ban upon their return, the "Star" reported.
Passport is a 'privilege'
The Immigration Department's Director General, Sakib Kusmi, confirmed the existence of such regulations, adding that holding a Malaysian passport was a "privilege and not a right."
"The government has the discretion to either issue, defer or revoke the travel document," the "Star" quoted Sakib as saying.
Crackdown on critics
After Prime Minister Najib Razak faced resignation calls over corruption accusations last year, Malaysia has significantly intensified its crackdown on government critics, hauling people to court on sedition charges.
Just last week, social activist Maria Chin Abdullah, chairwoman of the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections, or Bersih, was barred from travelling to South Korea to accept a human rights award.
Bersih - an electoral reforms advocacy group - last year organized a street protest against Najib, which saw some 250,000 demonstrators calling for the prime minister to step down. Abdullah was also involved in a "Save Malaysia" campaign which sought to collect signatures from the Malaysian electorate demanding Najib's resignation.
It was not immediately clear exactly how many critics have been barred from travelling overseas since the new regulation was enforced, although Malaysians who are bankrupt, indicted, or have yet to repay government loans are regularly stopped from leaving the country.