SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: September 02, 2014

Attack Types: Prosecution

Institution(s):University of Malaya

Region & Country:Southeastern Asia | Malaysia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On September 2, 2014, Dr. Azmi Sharom, a law lecturer at the University of Malaya, was charged in Kuala Lumpur Session Court with sedition, after commenting publicly on a constitutional crisis currently taking place in the Malaysian State of Selangor. 
In an interview, Professor Azmi compared the current crisis to a situation in the Malaysian State of Perak in 2009, stating, “[y]ou don’t want a repeat of that, where a secret meeting took place” and “I think what happened in Perak was legally wrong. The best thing to do is do it as legally and transparently as possible.”

Professor Azmi pleaded not guilty to the charge against him and was released on bail pending trial. He spoke publicly about the prosecution, stating, “I was shocked to learn that I am being charged under the Sedition Act because of comments I made on the Perak crisis of 2009. My statements were based on established case law and democratic principles. They were given in my capacity as a law lecturer of 24 years standing.” Under Malaysian law, sedition is defined as speech that “would bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against” the government. A sedition conviction carries a potential jail term of three years, or RM5,000 (about US $1500), or both. Reports indicate that Dr. Azmi’s next hearing is set for October 3, 2014.  
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the prosecution of a scholar in retaliation for nonviolent, expressive activity related to his professional expertise and protected by internationally recognized human rights standards. State authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with scholars’ expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Prosecution aimed at limiting such expressive activity undermines academic freedom and democratic society generally.

On October 6, 2015, the Federal Court declared the Sedition Act to be constitutional, and ordered the case against Professor Azmi to proceed in Malaysia’s Session Court.
On February 12, 2016, the Malaysian Attorney General issued a public statement announcing that he would terminate Dr. Azmi’s prosecution.  No reason was given for the termination.