Students in Malaysia warned against protesting

IN an unprecedented move being denounced by human rights groups, two private Australian universities with branches in Malaysia have issued campus-wide warnings to their students forbidding participation in upcoming anti-government protests.

Students at Monash University Malaysia and Curtin University Sarawak, both private universities, received an email warning students of potential school disciplinary proceedings if they joined the protests. While state-run universities have issued warnings against protests in the past, students and alumni report that this is the first time private institutions have taken such harsh measures.

The protests, led by an NGO coalition, Bersih, are being organised as part of a demand for fair elections, a government free of corruption, and a representative democracy for the people of Malaysia.

Students and alumni have taken the presidents of each university to task, criticising the decision to warn students against participation in the protests. The human rights organisation HAKAM accused the universities of attempting to ‘stifle freedom of expression’, and warned that the move could lead to further unrest. The Malaysian constitution contains the right to peaceful assembly, and many observers see this decision as perpetuating the already-present problems within the Malaysian government.

Monash University Malaysia issued an apology for the email, stating that they were merely reminding students that unlawful assembly is illegal in Malaysia, and that criminal charges could be brought against them. The apology did not state whether or not disciplinary measures would be taken against the students, as had been previously mentioned in the original email. This move is markedly different from Monash University Malaysia’s reaction to protests in the past.

In 2014, the university allowed students to participate in protests, however asking them not to wear t-shirts with the university’s name. The protests, which occurred on November 19 and brought tens of thousands of Malaysians to Kuala Lumpur, ended peacefully amid heckling from pro-government viewers. The protests’ organisation and planning has been praised by Malaysian media yet the government has subsequently jailed the leader of Bersih. She has been kept in solitary confinement since the night before the protest.