On March 22, 2019, supporters of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak reportedly attacked students peacefully protesting Razak’s appearance near campus.
In May 2018, Malaysians voted to end Razak’s ten-year tenure as Prime Minister following allegations of corruption and abuse of power. Razak was later indicted on criminal charges and was scheduled to appear in court in April 2019. In preparation for his court appearance, Razak redoubled efforts to rally political supporters.
During a March 22 meet-and-greet session featuring Razak, students from the University of Malaya (UM) in Kuala Lumpur gathered across the street to protest. The students reportedly held posters displaying caricatures of Razak and statements demanding that he return funds he had allegedly embezzled. A group of Razak’s supporters across the street, including a representative from the governing body of Razak’s political party, reportedly taunted the students and approached them. Some of Razak’s supporters proceeded to tear up their posters and used force against the students. At least one of Razak’s supporters reportedly choked and slapped Wong Yan Ke, a UM student and the protest’s chief organizer. Journalists covering the protest reported being assaulted by Razak’s supporters. Police on the scene intervened and reportedly escorted the students to a station in order to take their statements.
On March 28, four of Razak’s supporters were charged in connection to the altercation.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about a violent attack on students in retaliation for their peaceful exercise of the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Exercise of these rights by all parties must not extend to violent conduct. State authorities have a responsibility to protect the peaceful expression and assembly, and to hold perpetrators of violent attacks responsible. In addition to the harm done to the immediate victims, such incidents have a chilling effect on academic freedom and undermine democratic society generally.