Latest Abuse of AUKU Proof of the Need for Immediate Law Reform

In addition to the 25 students who have been intimidated, charged and found guilty under the Akta Universiti dan Kolej Universiti 1971 (AUKU), two students from Universiti Sabah Malaysia, Kampus Antarabangsa Labuan (UMSKAL) become the latest victims under the draconian law.
 
Jamhuri Mohamed, a student activist, is charged for violation of the University’s code of discipline based on an article written by him and published in the online news portal HarakahDaily. (See Link 1)
 
According to a letter dated 17June 2014 sent by the University, he is found to have violated Kaedah 3(a)(i) Kaedah-Kaedah Universiti Sabah Malaysia (Tatatertib Pelajar-Pelajar) 1999, AUKU which says:
 
“3. A student shall not:-
 
(a) Conduct himself, whether within the Campus or outside the Campus, in any
manner which is detrimental or prejudicial—
 
(i) to the interests, well-being or good name of the University, any of the students, staff, officers, or employees of the University;”
 
The paragraph in the article that becomes the basis of the accusation is as follow:
 
“Isu rampasan premis kedai mahasiswa ini juga membuktikan Akta Universiti dan Kolej Universiti (AUKU) masih bermasalah dan perlu dimansuhkan segera. Peruntukan seksyen 16 AUKU memberi Absolute Power kepada Ketua Pengarah bagi sesebuah Universiti untuk membuat sebarang keputusan. Kuasa mutlak inilah yang sering disalahguna oleh pemimpin Universiti seperti Pengarah UMSKAL untuk membuat keputusan kuku besi sekaligus mengetepikan kepentingan mahasiswa sebagai kumpulan akar umbi dalam universiti.”
 
 
Just this morning, another student, Muhammad Fadhil bin Abdul Ghani is summoned to a disciplinary proceeding after having organised an assembly without the prior approval of the Vice Chancellor, contrary to Kaedah 9 of the same rules. Kaedah 9 states that:
 
“Organizing assemblies
 
9. (1) No student, organization, body or group of students shall, without the prior permission of the Vice-Chancellor hold, organized, convened or called, …., any assembly of more than five persons in any part of the Campus or on any land or in any building belonging to or under the possession or control of the University or used for the purposes of the University.”
 
The said assembly is in relation to a election, held by group of progressive students Pro-Mahasiswa, to elect its new chief. Although it was not a Campus Election, in the spirit of democracy, the election was open to all students of UMSKAL. It was also intended to show that traditional manual voting is more reliable and transparent than the infamous E-Voting. Unfortunately, the University was not very impressed about it. (See Link 2)
 
In relation to Muhamed Jamhuri’s case, it is extremely disappointing that the Branch Director decided not to exercise his right to formally respond to the allegation, but instead, initiate disciplinary proceeding against the student involved. The article was only written after the UMS administration failed to provide reasonable explanation as to its decision to shut down a shop operated by the students. The decision to charge Jamhuri Mohamed means that students disgruntled by any arbitrarily made administrative decision would be left with no choice but acceptance. 
 
In fact, Kaedah 3(a)(i) also operates as a ‘catch-all provision’ where it is often abuse by the the authority to intimidate students who have expressed views that are critical to the power that be. Anything can be detrimental to the good name of the university as long as the university’s authority construed it to be so. It is one of the main weapons which makes AUKU a convenient tool to suppress student activism. 
 
As to the latest case, it appears that the university’s administration has acted mala fide against students supportive of the anti-establishment Pro Mahasiswa. The students are entitled to prefer any other voting system than that currently adopted by the University.  They too must be free from promoting that preference. It is disgusting to see our university to abuse Kaedah 9 in an attempt to deny the students’ freedom to assembly, even after the similarly restrictive Section 27(5) of the Police Act 1967 had been repealed. The current state of affairs clearly shows that the students are a social class which the power that be is so afraid of that they must be subject to a different set of laws. 
 
While students form the largest part of the community within any university, students’ views are often neglected in any decision-making process affecting students’ life in university. Underlying the conflict between the students and the administrators are the conflicting views on the university as public institution and its place in society. For the government, the university is only a factory to produce skilled workers for the industries and job market – a slave to the capitalists. Whereas for us the students, university should be a place for us to not only to explore new and existing knowledge, but to also learn to act responsibily. All these cannot be achieved if students are restricted only to the textbooks and subject fully to the manipulation of the government. 
 
DEMA calls on the Ministry of Education to immediately look into these incidents and declare its stand on students’ right to freedom of expression, association and assembly as citizens of this country. There is no excuse for the Ministry to deny any knowledge of these incidents as a memorandum has been sent to the Deputy Minister of Education, Mr. P. Kamalanathan and receipt of it has been acknowledged during his speech in the Dewan Rakyat.
 
A Parliamentary Select Committee, comprising Members of Parliament from both sides of the divide must be immediately formed to consider the compatibility of AUKU with the Federal Constitution and review the current national policy on higher education. In doing do, opinions from both students and academics must be properly considered.
 
We also demands that UMSKAL immediately withdraw all the accusations made under AUKU and respect the voices of the students. The students are no longer school children. We expect the practice of professionalism within the university’s administration. 

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