Legal experts deny ‘ignorant’ social media posts about ‘conditions of Malaysian citizenship’

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Several Malaysian-language posts circulating on Facebook claim that a person must be Muslim, Malay or from the Southeast Asian region to qualify for Malaysian citizenship. However, the claim is false; neither race nor religion are requirements for citizenship in Malaysia under the Constitution, while a legal expert called the allegation “ignorant and biased”.

The complaint was shared as an image on Facebook here June 9, 2022.

Its caption in the Malaysian language translates to: “To let foreigners know that these are the requirements to become citizens of Malaysia. Why don’t the Chinese and Malaysian Indians want to accept it?”

The disjointed Malaysian text in the image claims that ‘requirements to become a Malaysian citizen’ include being of Malay ethnicity or origin from South East Asia or the Malay Archipelagoreferring to a group of over 17,000 islands, which includes parts of Malaysia, as well as Indonesia and the Philippines.

He continues to assert that spouses must be Muslims if they apply for citizenship.

The assertion also states that Chinese and Indians who are not from the Southeast Asian region cannot become citizens and are only eligible for permanent residency, and cannot participate in politics. unless they are Muslim or married to a Muslim Malaysian citizen of Malay. ethnic group.

Screenshot of misleading Facebook post taken July 18, 2022

The complaint aired as a Malaysian court was set to rule on a government appeal against a High Court ruling in September 2021 that found a rule preventing women married to foreign spouses from passing citizenship to their children was unconstitutional.

The government challenged this court ruling and the Court of Appeal is expected to issue a decision on August 5, 2022, according to local media. reported.

The complaint was also shared on Facebook here, here and here.

However, the claim is false; the constitution of malaysia does not include race or religion as a condition for obtaining citizenship.

“Ignorant and populist views”

“The Facebook post is, understandably, a mix of ignorance, populist views, and racist and religious prejudice,” said Dr. Shad Saleem FaruqiProfessor Emeritus at the Faculty of Law, University of Malaya.

“Under the Federal Constitution, race and religion are nowhere prescribed as conditions for obtaining citizenship. Millions of non-Malays and non-Muslims are citizens of the country,” he said. to AFP on July 2, 2022.

The constitutional expert rejected the claim that a person must be of Malay race from Southeast Asia or the Malay Archipelago.

Malaysia has long grouped its indigenous tribes under the same category as people of Malay ethnicity called “bumiputera– a phrase which is not used in the constitution – but Shad Saleem said that those in the East Malaysia the states of Sabah and Sarawak could challenge this idea of ​​a “Malay lineage”.

The claim that Muslim foreigners would be eligible for citizenship was “very vague and generally untrue”, Shad Saleem said, adding that religion does not guarantee citizenship.

Become a Malaysian citizen

Jasmine Wangsenior partner at law firm MahWengKwai & Associates, explained four avenues become a Malaysian citizen.

The first is citizenship by right — also called citizenship by birth and descent.

These include: persons born in Malaysia to at least one parent who is a citizen or permanent resident at the time of birth; those born outside the country to a citizen father and whose birth is registered within one year; a person born in Singapore to at least one parent who is a citizen; and a person born in Malaysia but not born a citizen of any other country.

“There are various issues with the legal interpretations of the above and citizenship is not a simple matter,” she told AFP.

The second method is by registration: a foreign wife married to a Malaysian husband, who has been in Malaysia for at least two years and of good character; anyone under the age of 21 of whom at least one parent is a citizen; or any child under the age of 21 if there are “special circumstances”.

However, Wong noted that “special circumstances” are not defined anywhere.

Shad Saleem also said that this method excludes foreign men who marry Malaysian women.

A person can also become a citizen by naturalization, where the government can grant citizenship if the person has been in Malaysia for at least 10 years and intends to live permanently in the country, is of good character and has an understanding adequate from Malaysia. Language.

The last method is citizenship by “territorial incorporation” under which all residents of land acquired by Malaysia would be granted citizenship, which Wong said was no longer relevant today.

However, she said the complicated nature of citizenship laws meant that local courts and the National Registration Service (JPN) have taken different approaches and interpretations in deciding whether or not to grant citizenship to a person.

Political participation

Despite the claim that people of Indian and Chinese descent were excluded from politics, Malaysia has political parties based on these ethnicities, such as the Malaysian Indian Congress and the Malaysian Chinese Associationwho are part of the ruling coalition.

According to Shad Saleem, the complaint “is not based on the law but is malicious and racist”.

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