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Court declares Sabah-born man a Malaysian citizen, orders IC to be issued
Published on: Thursday, February 17, 2022
By: Malay Mail
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Court declares Sabah-born man a Malaysian citizen, orders IC to be issued
Chia had together with his eldest sister filed this lawsuit on December 18, 2019 through a judicial review application, naming the home minister, the National Registration Department’s director-general, and the Malaysian government as the three respondents. — Malay Mail pic
Kuala Lumpur: A 26-year-old stateless man —- born in Sabah to a Malaysian father and Indonesian mother — was today finally recognised as a Malaysian citizen, as the court declared him to be entitled to citizenship and ordered for citizenship documents and identity card to be issued to him.

This is after the Tawau-born man’s 14 years of waiting to be known as a Malaysian. All his three elder sisters are Malaysians, and he is the only one who was denied citizenship recognition.

High Court judge Datuk Noorin Badaruddin today allowed five of the court orders sought by the Sabah-born man Chia Yong Chai, but did not award damages — or compensation — as sought.

“I’m allowing the judicial review application filed by the applicant, with costs of RM5,000 to the applicant,” the judge said during a delivery of the decision through the video-conferencing platform Zoom, adding that she would be providing the full grounds of her judgment if an appeal is filed.

Chia had together with his eldest sister filed this lawsuit on December 18, 2019 through a judicial review application, naming the home minister, the National Registration Department’s director-general, and the Malaysian government as the three respondents.

In this case, Chia had sought six main reliefs, including for damages to be awarded over the respondents’ alleged unconstitutional action relating to the rejection of his application for Malaysian citizenship. The damages sought were the one that the High Court did not award today.

The five court orders allowed today include a declaration that Chia is a Malaysian citizen by operation of law due to his birth within Malaysia according to the Federal Constitution’s Article 14(1)(b) and Section 1(e) and Section 2(3) of Part II of the Federal Constitution’s Second Schedule.

Also allowed was a declaration that Chia is a Malaysia citizen by operation of law as he was born to a Malaysian father and in accordance with the Federal Constitution’s Article 14(1)(b) and Section 1(a) of Part II of the Second Schedule.

The High Court also granted a certiorari order to quash the home minister’s decision — as stated in a November 2018 letter that was received by Chia in October 2019 — to reject Chia’s application for citizenship under Article 15A of the Federal Constitution.

The final two of the court orders granted today are mandamus orders which directed the respondents to reissue Chia’s birth certificate to register him as a Malaysian citizen and to issue a Malaysian citizenship certificate and a MyKad identity card to Chia.

Lawyer Ranee Sreedharan represented Chia and his sister, while the government and the two other respondents were represented by the Attorney General’s Chambers’ senior federal counsel Liew Horng Bin.

CHIA’S LONG WAIT TO BE CALLED A MALAYSIAN, JUST LIKE HIS SISTERS

Below is a summary by Malay Mail of what is known about this case, based on court affidavits. 

Chia said he was born in 1996 in Tawau, Sabah to a Malaysian father and Indonesian mother who married in Tawau, Sabah in 1982 through “adat kampong” or village customs, adding that he is the youngest of four children born to the couple. His three elder sisters are all Malaysians.

Chia’s father died in 2007 when he was just 11 years old, while his non-Malaysian mother had became uncontactable and untraceable and is believed to have returned to her country of origin, Indonesia.

Before resorting to filing this lawsuit in December 2019, Chia had via his eldest sister made three attempts over an 11-year-period — including years of waiting for a response from the authorities — to have him recognised as a Malaysian citizen. 

The first citizenship application to the NRD in Tawau on March 7, 2008 (when Chia was aged 12) was rejected without explanation via a letter dated September 22, 2010 (when Chia was aged 14), while the second citizenship bid on September 20, 2011 (when Chia was aged 15) to the NRD in Tawau was similarly rejected.  

As for the third citizenship bid made on February 14, 2014, the Home Minister had rejected it — more than four years later — in a rejection letter dated November 2, 2018 without giving any reasons. Chia however said he and his family were not informed of the rejection, and that they were only given the letter on October 14, 2019 when they went to the NRD’s office in Putrajaya. 

By then, Chia had already turned 23, having started the long journey since 12 years old, and was still not recognised to be a Malaysian.

All three citizenship applications were made under Article 15A of the Federal Constitution, which is a citizenship provision with an age limit. Under Article 15A, the federal government may register anyone under the age of 21 as a Malaysian citizen, under such special circumstances as it thinks fit.

Chia had previously told the court that he had lived in Malaysia his entire life with his family, and had completed his entire education in Sabah up until the STPM level, furnishing his school leaving certificates from a primary school and a secondary school in Sabah and his STPM certificate as proof.

In an affidavit, Chia said he was facing difficulties in continuing his studies to the tertiary level due to his lack of citizenship, adding that his stateless status as a person without any citizenship would cause him multiple difficulties such as seeking for study sponsorships, getting a driving licence, opening a bank account, getting a job or registering his marriage in the future with the NRD and lacking freedom of movement.

The three respondents had through court affidavits by NRD director-general Datuk Ruslin Jusoh said NRD does not have records of Chia’s parents’ marriage being registered under the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce Act) 1976 and said a marriage is only legally valid after this law came into force, also saying Chia had to prove the marriage that was said to be done via adat kampung.

The NRD also said that a person’s citizenship is determined based on the marriage status and the citizenship of the biological parents at the time of birth, and Chia is the one that has to prove he is stateless or without citizenship of any country.

Chia had stressed that his parents did not know there was a need to register their marriage conducted through adat kampung following the 1976 law, and also said he and his three elder sisters shared the same mother despite variations in the mother’s stated name in their birth certificates.

Apart from producing a photograph of the entire family of six, Chia and his three elder sisters had also conducted a DNA test with the government’s Department of Chemistry confirming in March 2021 that the four of them are biological siblings — with a 99.9999 per cent probability of being siblings based on their DNA specimens collected by private lab company Gribbles Pathology.

Chia’s eldest sister had also in June 2011 made a statutory declaration confirming that she shares the same biological father and same biological mother as Chia, adding that their parents do not have a marriage certificate and that their marriage was not registered as they only married according to adat kampung.

The NRD had in an affidavit also said Chia’s three elder sisters had received a Malaysian identity card as the NRD registration procedures did not require the parents’ marriage certificate to be produced, and that the procedures were improved in 2003 to require the marriage certificate to be shown.

Chia had in an affidavit argued that the procedures said to be improved in 2003 cannot apply to his case as his birth was in 1996.

The High Court granted leave for judicial review on March 1, 2020, and on November 9 last year heard the judicial review application.

This was the judicial review application which Chia and his eldest sister won today.

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