10 things about: Fahmi Zainol, the rising star of student activism

Picture by Choo Choy May
Picture by Choo Choy May

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 2 ­— People started taking note of 23-year-old Universiti Malaya student Fahmi Zainol when he led a group of students who defied orders to call off an event with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim as the main speaker.

This happened the night before Anwar went to court to challenge his second sodomy conviction.

The fourth year administration and social justice student from Penang who is also the Universiti Malaya Students’ Council president said he was adamant about going ahead with the function because he felt Anwar, the federal Opposition leader, had the right to speak at his alma mater.

Speaking eloquently in Bahasa Malaysia, Fahmi said he thought a new Malaysia, and the time for reform in this country, begins now and who better to champion this than students who will be the future of the country.

The ambitious young man said he would like to be get his PhD and be a professor one day, and perhaps only then, be politically active. Fahmi is expected to graduate next June.

The charismatic young man, who commanded the attention of hundreds of rally goers on Monday night just by clearing his throat into the microphone, said he had received negative feedback mainly on Facebook, but he is unfazed and has his eyes trained on a bigger goal, which is to see Malaysia become a better country.

The third child of six said his parents were understandably worried about him being in the limelight, doing something that may not sit well with some people, but they were supportive.

In his own words:

I had asked them to support me and not get mad at me. So they are not mad. My mum tried to dissuade me but I said it’s okay, you have to believe that I know what I’m doing.

I think Anwar’s case is a stepping stone. It’s not that I am using Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim but we see that his case shows that the judiciary is not transparent, we need to fight for these individuals. Students need to look at what’s going on in the society. If it wasn’t Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim being charged but Ibrahim Ali, the students would also want to see justice

This is a chance for students to be enlightened. With Anwar’s case, it is a violation of humans rights… This case mirrors the judiciary system. If it did not happen to him today, it could be my father, someone else, how would we feel then?

I am not Anwar’s supporter. Us, at the student level, we would support any individual who has the ability to lead the country. I also agree with Tun Dr Mahathir’s views. So you can’t say I’m pro-government or pro-opposition. I will support whichever is good. With Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s case, I think we should fight for him, that’s my opinion.

I think it’s time NGOs or anyone who wants to see change… we need to be at the front line with the students to see a more developed Malaysia. I think it’s time students lead the change, look at Indonesia, look at Hong Kong, the students are leading the change, not a certain individual or a political party.

Our brothers in Hong Kong saw injustice, and they took action. But why not in Malaysia? I know it’s a challenge but it has to start now in this globalised and Internet era... students, the young, need to be the leaders.

I know they are concerned about the government’s backlash. If they are vocal, they may be threatened to be expelled, or suspended for the semester... if we have a different view, action will be taken against us. That is why students at higher education institutes are afraid, the fear the government’s backlash. Universities should be a safe place, but it is not anymore.

I don’t think I would be expelled because this is a good university and it upholds academic values but if it happens, I will ensure my case will be brought to the university courts and win. And for sure I will win.

I think even after Datuk Seri Anwar’s case ends, if he’s freed, I think the momentum will be stronger to see a new Malaysia. It would inspire people and students. I think the impact is bigger if he is freed. I think we need a leader, not that I am his supporter but we need a leader to lead a new Malaysia.

I want to see a new Malaysia and the change for reform has to start now. 

*Two days after this interview, Fahmi was served a disciplinary proceeding notice. Depending on the outcome of the meeting on Nov 7, he may actually be expelled.

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