PETALING JAYA: Malaysian universities should stop using disciplinary rules to silence students and restrict debate, says Human Rights Watch (HRW), giving the example of six Universiti Malaya (UM) students who were penalized for holding a press conference without the university’s permission.
In a statement on Monday, HRW said that university rules in Malaysia, such as the “broadly worded” University and University Colleges Act (UUCA) were used to stifle university students’ freedom of expression and assembly.
“Universities should be places of open discussion and debate.
“Students should not be penalized for peaceful speech under the guise of enforcing school discipline,” said HRW deputy Asia director Phil Robertson.
HRW said that UM had “repeatedly sanctioned” students for speaking out on matters of public interest, banned speakers from campus and blocked student assemblies through the use of the UUCA and university disciplinary rules.
The UUCA prohibits students from being involved in political party activities on campus, or from joining or saying anything that “may reasonably be construed” as expressing support for “any society, organization, body or group of persons which the Board determines to be unsuitable to the interests and well-being of the students or the University.”
UM, said HRW, used the UUCA to enact disciplinary rules that prevent students from holding any assembly or circulating any document without prior approval, which prohibits them from engaging in any activity the university deems “detrimental” to the university’s name through the threat of penalties ranging from a warning to expulsion.
“Malaysian universities should celebrate civic engagement by their students – not repress it.
“The restrictions in the UUCA and the university disciplinary rules are contrary to the spirit of academic freedom, violate principles of free speech and assembly, and should be repealed,” said Robertson.This was not the only time UM students were penalised, as in 2014, eight UM students dubbed the UM8 were suspended and fined for organising a speech for opposition leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.
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