COMMENT | We write to express our concern and disagreement with Alwi Jantan in his open letter to the education minister.
In it, Alwi, a former chief secretary to the government and now a G25 member, seeks to discipline the four academics at the centre of the controversy involving the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
He calls for the punishment of the four academics - Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) deputy vice-chancellor and law professor Rahmat Mohamad, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) law associate professor, Shamrahayu Abdul Aziz, and Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia (USIM) law lecturers, Fareed Mohd Hassan and Hisham Hanapi.
The four have been in the public eye after student activists leaked the executive summary of a presentation they made to the Council of Rulers. The document was distributed to the online media and also through social media.
The presentation argued that there were negative implications, particularly for Malaysia’s constitutional monarchs, of Malaysia becoming a signatory to the Rome Statute.
Since then, the contents of the executive summary have been scrutinised and publicly critiqued by other academics, lawyers, and even the students.
At a widely publicised and reported forum in Universiti Malaya on Saturday, 27 April, six speakers, led by Attorney-General Tommy Thomas and constitutional law expert, Professor Shad Saleem Faruqui, systematically debunked the four academics’ crude and erroneous assertions.
It was telling that despite being invited to defend their stand, all four academics failed to attend the UM discussion. Indeed, since the expose by the activists, the four seem to have gone into hiding.
We reiterate our stand that these four academics, like other professionals, must defend the credibility and integrity of their work, or suffer irreparable damage to their – and their institutions’ – reputation.
But we disagree with this call for their punishment based on three grounds specified in Alwi’s letter.
First, that they needed to get the permission of their vice-chancellors before issuing any public statement.
This is an archaic civil service ruling that goes against any notion of academic freedom and freedom of expression. The Malaysian Academic Movement (Gerak) continues to oppose this, with no exceptions, even in the case of these four academics.
Second, that they went against government policy. Wasn’t this the ruling that allowed the previous regime to pillage our country and drain our resources and much of our life savings?
As academics, often studying and scrutinising society, we must be given the freedom to question policy. Sometimes we get it wrong, as in this case. But most times, we get it right. Poor research abounds in our society. But we can only get better if we are allowed the space to question and challenge.
Third, that they gave wrong advice to the rulers. This perhaps is their biggest `crime’. Why they did so, we can only speculate. But being publicly humiliated surely is a high enough price to pay already?
Let us leave them to be censured by their institutions and colleagues.
Of course, if they had any integrity, even without official censure, the four should make a public apology to all affected parties – the academic community, the government, the council of rulers and, of course, the Malaysian public.
Keeping silent is not an option.
The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.