Malaysian students 'occupy' university over Anwar incident

A group of students at Universiti Malaya's (UM) has started their own 'Occupy' camp-in protest against the university's punishment of eight undergraduates for organising an unauthorised talk featuring opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. -- PHOTO: THE ST
A group of students at Universiti Malaya's (UM) has started their own 'Occupy' camp-in protest against the university's punishment of eight undergraduates for organising an unauthorised talk featuring opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. -- PHOTO: THE STAR/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK
A group of students at Universiti Malaya's (UM) has started their own 'Occupy' camp-in protest against the university's punishment of eight undergraduates for organising an unauthorised talk featuring opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. -- PHOTO: THE ST
A group of students at Universiti Malaya's (UM) has started their own 'Occupy' camp-in protest against the university's punishment of eight undergraduates for organising an unauthorised talk featuring opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. -- PHOTO: THE STAR/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK
A group of students at Universiti Malaya's (UM) has started their own 'Occupy' camp-in protest against the university's punishment of eight undergraduates for organising an unauthorised talk featuring opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. -- PHOTO: THE ST
A group of students at Universiti Malaya's (UM) has started their own 'Occupy' camp-in protest against the university's punishment of eight undergraduates for organising an unauthorised talk featuring opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim. -- PHOTO: THE STAR/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK

KUALA LUMPUR (The Star/Asia News Network): A group of students at Universiti Malaya's (UM) has started their own 'Occupy' camp-in protest against the university's punishment of eight undergraduates for organising an unauthorised talk featuring opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim.

"I treat this place like my home, I come here after class and I sleep here. It is quite tough living out here, but I am doing it because I believe in the cause we are fighting for," said third-year Islamic studies student Ahmad Aqiel of the protest, known as Occupy UM, and located just outside UM's gates.

"Even though we have exams coming up, we will continue to stay here. We will just bring our books to study," said the 22-year-old.

Aqiel said that there are around 20 students at the grounds during the day, and around a hundred supporters at night when there are activities planned.

"There are people here rain or shine. Some people even fell sick because of the weather. But despite that, there will be people here," he said.

The protest stems from an incident on Oct 27, when hundreds of protesters forced their way through the locked gates of UM where Anwar had entered to give a talk.

The university had banned the talk, locking its two main gates and stationing security personnel at the entrances.

On Tuesday, UM issued suspensions and fines to eight students for organising the event. The university issued a statement on Wednesday saying that the eight students had been investigated and "charged" in accordance with the university's disciplinary act.

"The results of the trial are effective immediately, however, an appeal may be submitted within 14 days after the decision was announced," UM media head Izzad Zalman said in the statement.

One of the eight students, known collectively as UM8, said that the Occupy UM movement was about "justice and academic freedom", not politics.

"This is a student movement, not a political movement. We don't want to create the perception that this is political, we are fighting for the rights of students and our freedom of expression," said Adam Fistival Wilfred, a 23-year-old final year student.

Wilfred said that many of the people who had gathered at the site have come in solidarity with the group of eight students as well as to call for a change of the strict university rules.

"The university rules are against the Federal Constitution. Students should not be restricted. I believe that students should be able to discuss everything and that the university should be promoting critical thinkers," said Wilfred.

Wilfred said that the movement was meant to fight for freedom of expression and freedom of speech, and to stand up for the rights of students.

He added that supporters have organised barbecues, movie screenings on a self-made projector screen, music and talks to create a festive atmosphere.

"We have lots of fun. We help each other out, we are like a family fighting for one common cause. Students and outsiders are welcome to join us and support us," said Wilfred.

He added, however, that Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) had warned supporters over the tents and banners, saying it is illegal to set up tents without prior approval from the local council.

DBKL officers and police raided the grounds on Thursday at around 4pm and took down tents. Authorities then returned at about 7pm to remove the banners.

Protester Siti Maryam Ajjalilah said that she has been at the site since Wednesday to lend her support.

"I know that not all UM students agree with what we are doing here. They posted their views on Facebook and said that we are humiliating the university. But how can they say that if they do not come here and see what we are doing?

"They don't understand what we do and why we are doing this. So I urge everyone to come and see what is going on here before you judge us," the 23-year-old Islamic studies student said.