After ‘attack’ on academic freedom, UM students to rally forth

UM students showing support for law lecturer Assoc Prof Dr Azmi Sharom after he was charged with sedition for his academic opinion on the 2009 Perak constitutional crisis, September 2, 2014.
UM students showing support for law lecturer Assoc Prof Dr Azmi Sharom after he was charged with sedition for his academic opinion on the 2009 Perak constitutional crisis, September 2, 2014.

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KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 3 — Angered by the sedition prosecution of their vocal law lecturer Dr Azmi Sharom, a group of University of Malaya (UM) scholars will lead a rally here next Wednesday to reclaim fully their academic freedom.

Student leader Vince Tan said the charge against Azmi over the latter’s comments on the 2009 Perak constitutional crisis, is an “attack” on institutions of higher learning, and voiced concern at the growing repression of intellectual thinking.

“We feel there is an attack on academic freedom. We have come to a level that is beyond acceptable, because academic freedom in UM and Malaysia has gone so low. (An) academic can be charged for just stating an opinion in the field of his study.

“So we are coming out with a protest together with academics in UM, September 10, 1pm to 2pm,” the secretary-general of student rights group Progressive University of Malaya told Malay Mail Online when met at the court complex here yesterday.

The protest will be held at the university’s main bus stop, which is also the old Speaker’s Corner, the fourth-year law student said.

Screengrab of the Twitter poster of the planned rally in support of Azmi Shahrom.
Screengrab of the Twitter poster of the planned rally in support of Azmi Shahrom.

Tan said the rally was also to show the university student body’s support for Azmi and as a platform to press the repeal of the Sedition Act 1948.

Fahmi Zainol, University of Malaya Student’s Representative Council (MPPUM) president, similarly said: “We demand that the university’s values, academic freedom be returned.”

According to Fahmi, the organisations involved in this rally include the UM Academic Staff Association, MPPUM, the student group Pro-Mahasiswa University Malaya and the Persatuan Mahasiswa Islam Universiti Malaya (PMIUM).

Azmi was charged yesterday, under Section 4(1)(b) and 4(1)(c) of the Sedition Act, for uttering and publishing an allegedly seditious claim that the events during the 2009 Perak constitutional crisis was “legally wrong”

If convicted under either the first charge or alternative charge, the 45-year-old will face a maximum fine of RM5,000 or a maximum jail term of three years or both.

The associate professor, whose allegedly seditious comments were published on August 14 in a Malay Mail Online article titled “Take Perak crisis route for speedy end to Selangor impasse, Pakatan told”, was released on a bail of RM5,000.

Around 10 to 15 UM undergraduates waiting outside the courtroom for Azmi had held up slogans such as “We are all Azmi Sharom”, “Free Azmi”, “Bebaskan Universiti” (Free the university) and “#Mansuh Akta Hasutan” (Abolish Sedition Act).

According to Tan, around 20 to 30 UM students and 13 academic staff were present in court yesterday.

In elaborating on how academic freedom has been “compromised”, both Fahmi and Tan highlighted the case of UM Professor Datuk Dr Mohammad Redzuan Othman, who was purportedly asked this year to give up his position as the university’s Centre for Democracy and Elections (UMCedel) over survey results that allegedly upset Putrajaya.

Redzuan’s tenure as the dean of UM’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences was also not renewed a year ahead of his retirement, purportedly to allow his successor time to acclimatise to the position.

Tan also pointed to UM’s decision to block former Malaysian Bar president and human rights activist Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan from giving a talk in the country’s oldest university earlier this year.

Chai Duwei, the UM Law Society president who was present inside the courtroom, said the student body which represents all the 400-strong students in the law faculty “will continue to stand in solidarity” with Azmi.

“It is shocking that a member of our faculty is being charged under the Sedition Act. These unprecedented charges are definitely a huge blow to academic freedom,” Chai told Malay Mail Online.

The law major confirmed that the UM Law Society will not be participating in the rally next Wednesday but will continue to support Azmi.

Azmi is the first academic to be charged with sedition, following a string of cases where opposition politicians were hauled to court in recent weeks.

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