Is court fine for UM grad for protesting at convocation the death knell for varsity activism?

IN A move that can be argued was designed to silence dissent and minority views, the Kuala Lumpur magistrate’s court yesterday (Oct 9) fined former Universiti Malaya (UM) graduate Wong Yang Ke who was found guilty for staging a protest at the varsity’s convocation four years ago.

Recall that the civil engineering graduate had on October 14, 2019 staged a solo protest during UM’s 59th convocation whereby he was alleged to have carried a placard bearing the words Undur VC (Step down VC) and Tolak Rasis (Reject Racist) while shouted Ini tanah Malaysia (This is Malaysian soil) on-stage when receiving the scroll for his bachelor’s degree.

Strong words and serious accusations but the student activist had in past interviews outlined why he had chosen the convocation as the platform to stage his protest. His justification was that repeated attempts by student bodies to meet with university authorities – including the vice-chancellor (VC) – on various issues were rebuffed or simply ignored.

By staging the protest in a very public arena in front of the VC, Wong further contended that only then could his voice be heard.

“When the protest happened in front of him and everyone else, he felt the public pressure and he has to answer,” he told Malaysiakini shortly after the incident went viral.

“I really hope my actions can inspire more students and academicians to voice out their views. A lot of people may criticise privately, but we also need to take action so that we may bring in changes.”

Freedom of speech curtailed

After the KL magistrate’s court handed out the RM5,000 fine in default three months imprisonment for insulting the VC yesterday (Oct 9), a defiant Wong said he would continue to exercise his constitutional right to freedom of speech.

Wong Yan Ke is pictured at the Kuala Lumpur High Court February 26, 2020 2 when he was 24 years old (Pic credit: Malay Mail)

The 27-year-old is adamant that it was vital that student’s be allowed to voice dissenting opinions to scrutinise those in public office and encourage accountability.

Varsities is the natural hotbed of political activism, not just here but globally. It is where the nation’s brightest and most talented are groomed for future leadership roles. Therefore, a  culture of open discussion is to be encouraged instead of one that operates under a cloak of repression and fear.

While some may argue that the convocation is no place for such shenanigans, then the powers-that-be must be brave enough to allow proper forums and platforms for these students to voice their opinions.

Many students, including Wong, have voiced their frustrations that the Universities and University Colleges Act does not promote an environment of intellectual discussion but a repressive one where dissenting or minority views are swept aside. Sound familiar?

One might even argue that it is a case of selective persecution. Also in 2019, a graduate from Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) were pictured doing a Nazi-salute during his convocation.

Pic credit: kiniTV

The photo went viral with the graduate stating his admiration for the Nazis in their treatment of Jews during World War II. This drew fierce condemnation from the German Embassy in Kuala Lumpur but no further action has been taken against the offending individual. Why?

Delivering her ruling, magistrate Illi Marisqa Khalizan said the court could not agree with the reasoning given by Wong that he had no other means to voice his views. Wong’s counsel, Chong Kar Yan, said his client would pay the fine and file a notice of appeal at the High Court.

It is hoped that Wong is successful in his appeal as at the very heart of the matter are issues of civil liberties and the nation’s aspirations of truly becoming a truly progressive society where democratic rights of all are protected, not just sieg-heiling graduates and politically-connected academics. – Oct 10, 2023

Main pic credit: MYC (Malaysian Youth Community)

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