Youth and Sports Minister Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman has expressed sympathy for the Universiti Malaya graduates who protested against the university’s vice-chancellor, Abdul Rahim Hashim.
However, he said, while he respects the graduates’ freedom of expression and opposes action being taken against them, convocation ceremonies are not the appropriate venues to hold protests.
In a post published through his Instagram account last night, Syed Saddiq said convocations are a special occasion for students to celebrate their achievements while their parents look on with pride.
Such a joyous and meaningful occasion should not be marred by protests, he said.
“Perhaps the graduation scroll is not important to us, but for our parents, it is something very meaningful and joyous.
“I do not deny students’ freedom of expression, but I personally believe that is not the best place to hold protests because the day is not just for us but also our friends and their families.
“Every person is free to express their views, and that is something I’ve fought for since long ago. So, I understand how it feels when our voices are stifled, and we are punished simply because we disagree with the university administration or the country.
“In celebrating everyone’s opinions, we must also be prepared to agree to disagree.
“Therefore, I disagree with calls to retract the students’ degrees. We can criticise and condemn them without seizing the degree that they worked hard for four years to attain,” Syed Saddiq said, without referring to the UM activists by name.
His stand echoes that of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who said convocations are neither the right time nor place for protests.
On Monday, UM graduate Wong Yan Ke staged a protest against Rahim by unfurling a placard and yelled "Tolak rasis. Undur VC. Ini Tanah Malaysia (Reject racism. VC withdraw (his statements). This is Tanah Malaysia)”.
The placard listed reasons why Abdul Rahim should step down. Wong did this on stage at UM’s convocation ceremony, after receiving his scroll.
The next day, another graduate, Edan Kon Hua En, attempted the same stunt but was foiled by the university's security force.
The protests were aimed at Rahim over his alleged racist speech at the Malay Dignity Congress on Oct 6.
The university condemned Wong’s actions and lodged a police report against him. He is now being investigated under Section 504 of the Penal Code, which deals with an intentional insult to provoke a breach of peace.
Wong also claimed that the university had withheld his academic transcript on “flimsy” grounds.