PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Human rights organisation Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) has called for the vice-chancellor of Universiti Malaya Abdul Rahim Hashim to resign after the university lodged a police report against a student who staged a solo protest during a convocation ceremony.
In a statement issued on Wednesday (Oct 16), Suaram said Datuk Abdul Rahim should step down if he is unable to take criticism from students or is unwilling to provide a safe space for them to engage in discourse.
"University Malaya and all universities are supposed to be a safe space where students and youth are given a safe space to learn, debate and develop their ideas."
"As part of this process, any critique against policies through protests or civil disobedience is to be expected and welcomed, so long it does not promote violence against others," Suaram executive director Sevan Doraisamy said in the statement.
The organisation said it was perturbed that the university had lodged a police report on Monday against Wong Yan Ke for his protest during the graduation ceremony.
Mr Wong had allegedly shouted "Ini Tanah Malaysia" (This land belongs to Malaysia) while carrying a placard with the words "Tolak Rasis" (Reject racism) and "Undur VC" (Step down VC) on stage after he received his degree scroll.
Mr Wong said he was protesting against the vice-chancellor's recent speech at the Malay Dignity Congress in Shah Alam, which he claimed was racially charged. He said that as a graduate, he had the right to criticise and call for the individual to be courteous.
The congress on Oct 6 was organised by four public universities - Universiti Malaya (UM), Universiti Pendidikan Sultan Idris (UPSI), Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) - to discuss and find solutions to problems faced by the majority Malay community. The gathering had been criticised for its racial agenda in multicultural Malaysia.
Mr Abdul Rahim had allegedly claimed at the congress that Malay dominance in politics had been eliminated after the 2018 General Election, and had warned ethnic minorities not to challenge Malay privileges under the country's social contract.
Mr Sevan said the position adopted by Universiti Malaya only shows that the management of the university has not progressed at all, despite the Ministry of Education's policy change that now allows university students to participate in political activities on campus.
He said that Suaram has previously stood as a witness for student activist Anis Syafiqah and others when they were penalised by Universiti Malaya for organising the Tangkap MO1 rally in Kuala Lumpur. The rally was held in Aug 2016 to protest against former prime minister Najib Razak in the wake of the financial scandal at state fund 1MDB.
"It would seem that the management still aims to paint students' acts of civil disobedience as a deplorable act, irrespective of the reasons or motivation behind them," he said, while calling for the university to retract the police report.
Lawyer Siti Kasim asked how the university could come up with a press statement condemning a Malaysian who is standing up for his right, yet stay silent on its vice-chancellor's extremely racist statement.
"The action of your student is a consequence of your VC's racist statement. This is an educational body. You should be ashamed to have a VC who is obviously racist. Is this what you teach in UM? It is this student's right to respond to his VC in this manner, so as to get the attention of many."
"The only good thing I see is that you have a student who is still able to use his brain, instead of kowtowing to the racism apparently prevalent in your university. Shame on you, UM, " she said in a Facebook post.
In its statement, the university had denounced Mr Wong's actions for not respecting the ceremony and disrupting its protocol.
"UM always supports the principle of freedom of expression. Even so, as an institute of higher learning that is entrusted to educate the future generation, we also believe that any action based on such principles must be carried out at the right time and place," the statement said.
Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad said on Wednesday that a convocation ceremony is not the right time nor place to voice dissent as it can lead to chaos.
"They can demonstrate but there are other places to do that. Do not disturb a proper ceremony to show that you have certain views," he said.
Tun Dr Mahathir also said that the government would not interfere with any university matters.
"They are free to make their decisions," he said.