KUALA LUMPUR (The Star/Asia News Network) - Malaysians who discredit or ridicule the government in any way can be barred from travelling overseas for three years.
Those who disparage the government while abroad will also be barred from travelling abroad again for three years upon their return, a source said.
The most recent example came on Sunday when the chairman of the anti-corruption movement Bersih 2.0, Ms Maria Chin Abdullah, was barred from leaving for South Korea to receive a human rights award.
On Dec 5 last year, social activist Hishamuddin Rais claimed he was barred from leaving, also to South Korea.
The source said that the Immigration Department had introduced this restriction several months ago in a move to safeguard the country's image.
"Anyone who runs down the government or 'memburukkan kerajaan' in any manner will be barred from going abroad.
"Only the Immigration Department director-general will be authorised to look into their appeals," he said, adding that the department would act once there was a request from enforcement agencies such as the police.
Immigration director-general Sakib Kusmi, in an e-mail reply to The Star, confirmed the existence of such a provision, adding that the ownership of a Malaysian international passport was a privilege and not a right.
"The Malaysian international passport is a travel document issued by the government under the aegis of the Yang DiPertuan Agong.
"So, the government has the discretion to either issue, defer or revoke the travel document," he said.
Datuk Sakib could not provide statistics on the number of Malaysians who have been barred from leaving the country for discrediting or ridiculing the government.
Several people including politicians and social activitists who criticised the government are known to have been barred from leaving the country along.
They include opposition MPs Tony Pua and Rafizi Ramli, SRC International Sdn Bhd managing director Nik Faisal Ariff Kamil, and The Edge Media Group owner Datuk Tong Kooi Ong .
Associate Professor Dr Shamrahayu A. Aziz, an expert on the constitution, said the freedom to leave or travel outside the country is linked to whether a citizen has the right to a passport.
"A person has no automatic right to a passport as it is a privilege given by the government. It is the government's discretion whether to allow or bar someone from leaving the country," she said.
"If a citizen is unhappy with the government's decision, they can always go to court," she said.