Malaysia’s new home minister said on Tuesday that the previous administration had at Islamabad’s request deported a Pakistani man last August who had written articles critical of his home country’s government.
Civil society organizations and activists have questioned the human rights commitment of Malaysia, which last year deported more than 2,000 Myanmar nationals, including defectors from the armed forces, to their military-ruled homeland.
The Pakistani man, Syed Fawad Ali Shah, 41, is a journalist with a United Nations refugee agency card, who had taken sanctuary in Malaysia more than a decade ago, his wife says. The Pakistani government informed Malaysia that Fawad was a former police officer with disciplinary problems, said Malaysian Home Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail.
“This was based on a request made by Pakistani government for us (Malaysia) to locate and deport him home. Acting on the request which was made via a diplomatic channel to our previous government in August last year, we had located his whereabouts and by the third week of August, he was deported back to Islamabad,” Saifuddin said after visiting Kajang Prison in Selangor state.
“Although he was described as a former policeman with disciplinary issues, he had a good writing flair and had been writing contents which criticized the [Pakistani] government and he was eventually referred to as a journalist. Based on the record given by Pakistani government, he had served as a policeman in Pakistan,” he added.
The minister’s statement came after a plea by Fawad’s wife to the Malaysian government to locate her husband who had been missing, she said, since Aug. 23.
Fawad had in earlier interviews told Malaysian media that he wrote for the Pakistani English-language daily, The Nation. He said he fled to Malaysia via Thailand, claiming that he was facing persecution in Pakistan for writing articles starting in 2008 that exposed Islamabad’s alleged involvement in missing persons’ cases.
He told news outlet Free Malaysia Today that he had been picked up in January 2010 in Allahabad, Pakistan, by men claiming to be from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), and detained for more than three months and tortured. Fawad claimed that during his detention, he saw officials with files that carried the name of Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the Inter-Service Intelligence, who accused him of working with “the enemy of the state.”
Reporters Without Borders, an international organization that promotes freedom of information, describes Pakistan as “one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists, with three to four murders each year that are often linked to cases of corruption or illegal trafficking and which go completely unpunished.”
“Any journalist who crosses the red lines dictated by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) – an intelligence agency offshoot – is liable to be the target of in-depth surveillance that could lead to abduction and detention for varying lengths of time in the state’s prisons or less official jails.”
‘Deportation has put his life in danger’
Meanwhile, Fawad’s wife Syeda, who requested her real name not be used as she feared for her safety, on Tuesday denied her husband was a policeman.
“My husband was never a policeman. He is a journalist. You can see from many of his articles on the internet,” she told BenarNews.
“How can they send him back to Pakistan where he may face persecution? The deportation has put his life in danger,” she told BenarNews.
She said the Pakistan High Commission in Malaysia claimed they were not involved in Fawad’s deportation.
“What is my husband’s crime? My husband’s crime is only that he writes against corruption. He is a journalist. This is his crime. How long will the oppression of the journalist continue like this and now the journalist is being oppressed at the international level.”
“My question now is how the Malaysian authorities could ignore the fact that he was in exile in Kuala Lumpur with a UNHCR card,” she said, referring to the U.N. refugee agency.
Syeda had travelled to Kuala Lumpur to locate Fawad after losing contact with him on Aug. 23. She said her husband was granted refugees status by the UNHCR in 2011, and was waiting for resettlement to a third country.
“I want a written statement from Malaysian government. Written evidence, because verbal communication is not valuable,” she said.
“Give me a written statement and my husband’s travel documents. When did he exit Malaysia? What is the flight number? Who is the Pakistani officer who came to Malaysia for my husband? And if my husband is deported to Pakistan then why he has he not appeared in any Pakistani Court?” she asked.
Rights activists strongly criticized the deportation.
“Since Syed Fawad [Ali] held a UNHCR card, his deportation is in violation of the non-refoulement principle,” said Beyond Borders Malaysia founder Mahi Ramakrishnan.
“The former Malaysian government sent him back to a country where he could be killed or tortured as he was critical of his government. This is appalling.”
Malaysia is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. But under international law, the principle of non-refoulement says that people can’t be sent back to a country where they are likely to be persecuted, tortured, mistreated or have their human rights violated in other ways.
Waytha Moorthy, the president of Malaysian Advancement Party and a civil rights activist, demanded an explanation from the Malaysian government.
“While the act of sending Fawad Ali back to Pakistan last August was done under the previous government, the current government is responsible to give the public an explanation on the justification of such an action by the immigration [director general],” Waytha said on Facebook on Tuesday.
“The DG must also confirm whether the authorities gave Fawad Ali the right to counsel/legal representation and challenge the decision of the immigration department and government to deport him in court and any breach of this is a clear breach of natural justice.”
“The country’s international obligations and conventions that Malaysia committed itself to, must be guarded by the civil service which acts as the administrative implementer on behalf of the government.”
Malaysia has been criticized in recent months for deporting hundreds of refugees from Myanmar to their strife-torn country, where the military on Feb. 1, 2021 overthrew an elected government.
In October, Myanmar’s shadow government voiced alarm over reports that military defectors were among 150 Myanmar nationals deported that month from Malaysia. They were among more than 2,000 Myanmar nationals deported since April, Human Rights Watch said in a statement at the time.