On February 15, 2016, six students at the University of Malaya were disciplined in connection with a press conference held on campus the previous December.
The six students – including Universiti Malaya Youth Association president Ho Chi Yang and vice-president Chua Hun Chi, Suhail Wan Azahar, Nur Hananie Chow Abdullah, Fahmie Nuaiman, and Muhammad Luqman – had called a press conference to protest what they argued was a plan by the university to limit students’ use of the internet on campus. A university spokesperson denied this charge.
The university reportedly notified the students in early February that a disciplinary action was being taken against them, under Malaysia’s University and University Colleges Act and related disciplinary rules established by the university. Under Section 15 of the Act, students may not “be involved in political party activities” on campus. Section 15 of the Act further provides that “any society, organization, body or group of students… shall not express or do anything which may reasonably be construed as expressing support for or sympathy with or opposition to . . . 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.”
The university reportedly held a disciplinary proceeding on February 15, during which the students faced possible suspension or expulsion. The following day, university authorities found the students guilty of the offense, and issued a warning.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about disciplinary actions against students in retaliation for the non-violent exercise of the rights to academic freedom, freedom of expression and freedom of association – conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Even where they do not result in suspension or expulsion, such disciplinary actions chill academic freedom and democratic society generally. State and university authorities have a responsibility not to interfere with such rights, so long as that activity is undertaken peacefully and responsibly. While state and university authorities have a legitimate interest in maintaining order and protecting property, they must do so in ways that are proportional to the situation, respecting the rights to peaceful expression, association and due process.