KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 1 — Scholars from University of Malaya (UM) have dismissed Ridhuan Tee Abdullah’s claims they were selective is supporting academics charged with sedition, saying they would have condemned it had the controversial columnist fallen foul of the same law.
The UM scholars disputed Ridhuan Tee’s accusation of “double standards” in their September 10 rally in support of the university’s Dr Azmi Sharom after he was charged under the Sedition Act 1948, saying their support extended to all targeted by the colonial-era law.
“On principle and without favour, at the rally we voiced objections to all charged under the Sedition Act, including ISMA chief Abdullah Zaik, who is Ridhuan’s kindred spirit (in) their political tendencies.
“If Ridhuan Tee had been charged under the Sedition Act, we would have condemned that,” the Universiti Malaya Academic Staff Union (PKAUM) and the Universiti Malaya Students Association (PMUM) said in a joint statement today.
The UM staff members and students were responding to Ridhuan Tee’s September 22 opinion piece in local daily Sinar Harian, which they said had “cast aspersions” on rally goers and organisers of the peaceful assembly.
In rejecting suggestions that they favour the federal opposition, PKAUM and PMUM maintained that they are a “non-partisan coalition”, pointing out only academics and university students were allowed to speak at the rally, while no politicians delivered any speech there.
In Ridhuan Tee’s opinion piece, he had questioned why no one had stepped forward to protest against a one-time sedition probe against him, asking why undergraduates had not launched a similar strike together with the federal opposition for academic freedom.
“It’s so clear that there is double standard there,” the senior lecturer from the National Defence University had written last month, saying that cries of academic freedom were only raised for pro-opposition opinions, while contrarian views are allegedly treated as “pro-government and racist”.
Today, PKAUM and PMUM instead pointed out that both Ridhuan Tee and Azmi’s cases were unalike, noting that the former was only investigated while the UM associate professor was charged.
“More importantly, Azmi is charged for giving his expert opinion on a legal matter, in which he upheld the Malaysian constitution.
“Ridhuan, on the other hand, was investigated for allegedly teaching ‘ethnic cleansing’,” the coalition said.
Saying that the charge against Azmi “clearly assaults the academic freedom of one who was educating the public in good faith”, the UM coalition said a “persecuted” academic has to first win the respect of the academic community to be the “focus and trigger point of a mass movement”.
PKAUM and PMUM reiterated their stand that their rally last month was to demand for academic freedom and defend Azmi’s constitutional right to freedom of speech, besides also calling for the repeal of the Sedition Act as promised by the prime minister in 2012.
On September, Azmi was charged under Section 4(1)(b) and Section 4(1)(c) of the Sedition Act for allegedly uttering seditious words or publishing seditious publications, based on his quotes in a Malay Mail Online article published on August 14 and titled, “Take Perak crisis route for speedy end to Selangor impasse, Pakatan told”.
If convicted under either charge, Azmi could face a maximum fine of RM5,000, no more than three years jail or both.
Today, the Sessions Court allowed Azmi’s application to refer a constitutional issue to the High Court, which is now set to hear and determine if the Section 4 (1) of the pre-Independence law used against him had breached Article 10 (2) of the Federal Constitution.
As Article 10(2) of the Federal Constitution states that only Parliament may enact a law that imposes restrictions on freedom of expression, as well as freedom of assembly and association, Azmi’s lawyers had argued that the Sedition Act was not passed by Parliament and was therefore invalid.