Home Civil Society Voices Honour pledge of non-interference in universities; respect students’ right to peaceful assembly

Honour pledge of non-interference in universities; respect students’ right to peaceful assembly

Photograph: Berita Harian

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Hakam notes with great concern that Education Minister Maszlee Malik has recently been appointed as president of the International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM).

Universities are pivotal institutions in producing the mature and critical-thinking leaders of tomorrow.

But for far too long, public universities in Malaysia have suppressed political views which oppose the government of the day, punished students for exercising their freedom of speech and stifled their own lecturers from criticising government policies.

This is a direct result of the government having too much power over the appointment of university administrators, who then – consciously or sub-consciously – are too eager to pander to the powers that be.

The appointment of the education minister as president of IIUM is a manifestation of the exact rot in academic freedom which happened in the past. It is also a breach of Promise number 50 in the Pakatan Harapan manifesto, which seeks to restore the authority and independence of public universities.

On a broader level, the education minister should be a minister for all public universities in Malaysia. Having the minister as a president of one particular public university inevitably signals a perception of the government’s bias towards IIUM, which would affect higher education policy in general.

Hakam is therefore encouraged by the prime minister’s recent statement that the education minister’s IIUM appointment is not carved in stone and will be reviewed, after a heavy public backlash.

Hakam calls for the education minister to decline or step down from the office of the president of IIUM. Hakam also urges the minister to step up the necessary reforms to grant autonomy to our public universities.

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Several student activists who were protesting against the appointment at the Ministry of Education were also reportedly arrested by police on the morning of 8 September and released on bail subsequently.

Hakam condemns the arrest of these student activists, which is a violation of their constitutional right to assemble peacefully. Hakam urges the authorities to respect and to facilitate our citizens’ right to assemble peacefully.

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