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: December 09, 2014

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):University of Malaya

Region & Country:Southeastern Asia | Malaysia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On December 9, 2014, eight students from the University of Malaya faced disciplinary proceedings for their involvement with a rally on campus for Malaysian opposition leader Dato Sri Anwar Ibrahim on October 27, 2014.

The students had scheduled the rally despite the objections of the university administration.  The university eventually declared the rally illegal, and ordered the campus’s gates locked.  Ibrahim was nevertheless able to enter campus, and addressed a large group of students who had attended, despite the university’s actions.  The university subsequently commenced disciplinary proceedings against the eight students, known as the UM 8, who had organized the event.  At the December 9, 2014 proceeding, student council president Fahmi Zainol was suspended for two semesters and was fined about USD 150, while another student leader, Safwan Shamsuddin, was suspended for one semester and fined about USD 75.  Four more student organizers received fines of about USD 40 each and were given warnings.  

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the suspension of students in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of the right of free expression, and about the cancellation of an on-campus event based on academic or political content. State and university authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with academic freedom or expressive activity, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. Suspension aimed at limiting such expressive activity harm academic freedom and related higher education values including autonomy and social responsibility.

UPDATE: On July 29, 2016, the Shah Alam High Court approved a request for a judicial review filed by five of the students against the UM disciplinary board. The High Court later ruled that the disciplinary proceedings were not conducted in accordance with UM’s disciplinary rules, a decision the university unsuccesfully appealed on two instances, most recently on February 12, 2018, when a Federal Court upheld the High Court and Court of Appeal’s decisions.