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 15, 2019

Attack Types: Prosecution

Institution(s):University of Malaya

Region & Country:Southeastern Asia | Malaysia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 15, 2019, University of Malaya (UM) administrators filed a complaint with local police against a student in apparent retaliation for his protest against the university’s vice chancellor during its convocation ceremony.

Wong Yan Ke is a civil engineering student at UM. At the convocation ceremony, as he walked on stage to receive his diploma, Wong carried a poster demanding the resignation of vice chancellor Datuk Dr Abdul Rahim Hashim. Wong’s protest stemmed from a speech the vice chancellor gave at the Malay Dignity Congress, which Wong argued was racially charged.

In a statement issued that day, UM condemned Wong’s protest saying “it tarnished the good name of UM, the graduates and the entire community.” UM officials filed a complaint to police against Wong, prompting a police investigation into Wong’s protest under Section 504 of the Penal Code, “intentional insult with intent to provoke a breach of the peace.” Violation of Section 504 can result in two years’ jail, a fine, or both.

UM will, however, permit Wong to collect his degree and transcript, despite a petition calling on the university to revoke the degree.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the prosecution of a student in retaliation for the nonviolent exercise of the right to freedom of expression — conduct which is expressly protected under international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. State and university authorities have an obligation to comply with internationally recognized standards of freedom of expression, as well as due process and fair trial.