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: October 22, 2016

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):University of Malaya

Region & Country:Southeastern Asia | Malaysia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 22, 2016, University of Malaya (UM) officials initiated disciplinary proceedings against four students for their involvement in an August 27, 2016 rally in Kuala Lumpur, known as #TangkapMO1. The students are Anis Syafiqah Md Yusof, Mohd Luqman Hakim Fazli, Mohamad Luqman Nul Haqim Zul Razali, and Suhail Wan Azhar.

The #TangkapMO1 (“Arrest Malaysian Officer 1”) rallies were organized by a student-led coalition demanding the arrest of “Malaysian Officer 1,” an individual who the US Department of Justice has accused of receiving  stolen funds from Malaysian state investment firm 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB).

The #TangkapMO1 rally lasted roughly two hours and was described as peaceful, with an estimated 1,500 protesters marching between number of locations around the city.

On October 22, 2016, UM officials reportedly issued the four students show cause letters and summoned them to a disciplinary hearing in connection to the protest. On December 15, 2016, the university ruled that the students had violated Malaysia’s Universities and University Colleges Act of 1971 for conduct considered “detrimental or prejudicial to the interests or well-being of the University, or to the interests or well-being of any of the students or employee of the University, or to public order, safety or security.” The university ordered that  Ms. Yusof, Mr. Fazli, and Mr. Razali be suspended for six months and fined RM400 (roughly US $90.00); Mr. Azhar was only fined.

On December 27, 2016, the four student activists appealed the punishment and brought an action against the university, seeking a declaration that the actions taken against them violated Malaysia’s constitution. The suspensions of the three UM students were lifted on February 10, 2017.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about arbitrary disciplinary proceedings, suspensions and fines imposed on students in retaliation for non-violent exercise of the rights to free expression and association, conduct that is expressly protected under international human rights instruments. University officials have a responsibility to respect students’ rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, and academic freedom. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on university autonomy and undermine democratic society generally.