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: November 01, 2020

Attack Types: Killings, Violence, Disappearances | Imprisonment | Prosecution | Other

Institution(s):University of Malaya

Region & Country:Southeastern Asia | Malaysia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On November 1, 2020, The University of Malaya opened an investigation into the University of Malaya Association of New Youth (UMANY) for its social media activity. Days later, police opened an investigation into UMANY and arrested the former UMANY president, after which UMANY members have been subject to violent threats and harassment.

UMANY is a student organization focused on equality, democracy, and student rights at the University of Malaya (UM). On October 30, UMANY published a statement on Facebook opposing interference in domestic affairs by the crown, after King Sultan Abdullah rejected a proposal from Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to declare a state of emergency to address COVID-19. The Facebook post reportedly received wide criticism, including threatening messages, from many supporters of the king, leading UMANY to delete the post later that night.

On November 1, UM announced that it was opening an investigation into UMANY over the Facebook post. On November 3, UMANY re-posted its original statement, condemning UM’s investigation and the allegedly racist and sexist messages they received following the announcement.

On November 5, police reportedly opened a separate, criminal investigation on UMANY for the Facebook post under Malaysia’s Sedition Act and Communications and Multimedia Act. Police reportedly summoned and questioned UMANY president Yap Wen Qing, and vice president Tan Li Yua.

On November 7, plain-clothed police officers reportedly attempted to enter Wen Qing’s residence. After receiving a message from Wen Qing, Wong Yan Ke, UMANY’s former president, went to Wen Qing’s residence with a lawyer and recorded the officers on Facebook Live. Police quickly arrested Yan Ke under Section 186 of the Penal Code for “obstruction of justice.” The following day, police released Yan Ke on bail but confiscated his cellphone. If convicted, Yan Ke could be sentenced to up to a month in prison. Yan Ke already faces up to two years in prison for charges under Section 504, “intentional insult with intent to provoke a breach of the peace,” for his protest against the UM vice chancellor during an October 15, 2019 convocation ceremony (see report).

On November 9, police summoned and questioned six more UMANY members and the president of the UM Student Union.

On November 12, UMANY issued a statement apologizing to the king and the public for their Facebook post and called on police to halt the investigation into their members and the government to repeal the Sedition Act and Communications and Multimedia Act.

Starting on November 18, members of UMANY became subject to threatening messages and phone calls, including threats to rape, kill, and throw acid on UMANY members and their families. UMANY asked police to investigate the threats and breach of their personal contact information.

As of this report, authorities have not disclosed the status of their investigation into UNAMY or commented on the violent threats received by UMANY members.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about university and police investigations, arrests, harassment, and efforts to intimidate students in connection with their nonviolent exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and association — rights that are protected by international human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. State authorities have a responsibility to refrain from actions that restrict or retaliate against the exercise of such rights, so long as it is nonviolent and responsible. Beyond the harm to the immediate victim, investigations, harassment, and intimidation intended to restrict or retaliate against such activity undermines academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.