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LETTER | Drop Umany probe, uphold freedom of expression

LETTER | The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) condemns the investigations into Universiti Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany) over the group’s recent statement arguing that the king should not interfere in national affairs, and calls for freedom of expression and speech to be upheld.

On Oct 30, Umany issued a statement titled, “Yang di-Pertuan Agong should not interfere in national affairs”, following Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah’s decision to reject the prime minister’s proposal to call for an emergency and his advice for all MPs to support the Budget 2021. 

On Nov 1, Universiti Malaya (UM) said they had launched a probe into Umany over the statement. Yesterday, Umany said that their president, Yap Wen Qing, would be questioned by police today.

The right to express views and ideas freely, without fear of interference or persecution, is an essential part of democracy. Respectful debates and expressions help us examine and critically challenge conventional wisdoms and promote heterodox views that build strong and positive communities.

Freedom of expression is clearly enshrined under international human rights law and in our Federal Constitution. Limits on the freedom of expression in law must be clear and narrowly defined, and serve a well-defined public interest function. These limits and the related measures adopted to address alleged online infringement must meet the harm test to determine legitimacy, necessity and proportionality.

Furthermore, freedom of expression is a key part of the higher education experience. An open and robust environment for sharing ideas freely is crucial for learning as it allows students to think critically, challenge and engage with different perspectives. Academic freedom should also be promoted and students must remain free to inquire, study and evaluate, and gain new maturity and understanding.

Academic scholarship and promotion of human rights cannot flourish in an atmosphere of censorship and disproportionate restriction of speech and expression. It is highly expected that our higher education institutions are geared towards moulding a thinking society and support the promotion of multiple views that will develop future leaders that would not be chained by restrictions but be more empowered to critically examine conventional ideas and positions. Otherwise, our democracy will stagnate and die.

In this regard, we call for the police and UM to drop their respective investigations into Umany. Freedom of expression and speech should not be criminalised and infringed upon when a group of student activists are merely discussing the legal impact of incidents and decisions involving the Federal Constitution.

The writer is executive director, Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ).

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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