The day that we start to criminalize free speech is the day when we should seriously worry about the future of Malaysia, and make every effort to halt our descent into fascism.
On 5 April, Universiti Malaya (UM) civil engineering graduate Wong Yan Ke was ordered by a magistrates’ court to enter his defense on the charge of insulting former vice-chancellor Abdul Rahim Hashim at a convocation ceremony held in 2019.
It is a pity that our magistrates cannot get their priorities right.
It is highly likely that there is a backlog of cases to clear, some of which are very deserving of attention: but the court with its uncanny brilliance which few Malaysians will ever understand, adduced that Wong’s case deserves to be heard.
Most of us will agree that this is just another bullying tactic by the authorities. Wong has done nothing wrong!
In a move with which most right thinking Malaysians will agree, all the graduate had done was to publicize the endemic racism which has plagued our public universities and community.
In October 2019, Wong, who was also the president of the Universiti Malaya Association of New Youth (Umany) movement, walked onstage to receive his degree scroll.
Moments later, and just before he was to leave the platform, he unveiled a protest placard to demand the resignation of vice-chancellor Abdul Rahim. At the same time he yelled, “Tolak rasis. Undur VC. Ini Tanah Malaysia (Reject racists. VC step down. This is Malaysian land)”.
If anyone is to be charged in court, it should be the VC. The magistrate should leave Wong Yan Ke alone!
The VC who was sitting in the first row of the hall must have bristled with anger and gone beetroot red.
Wong’s placard had listed the VC’s failure to tackle racism and hate crime. He alleged that the VC had infringed on academic freedom, failed to uphold students’ constitutional rights, and failed to resolve UM’s financial crisis.
Wong alleged that the VC had allowed himself to become a political pawn.
These serious allegations deserve to be heard and acted on. Instead, the VC and his peers closed ranks.
Police reports were lodged and UM threatened to revoke his degree certificate.
Wong’s lone and peaceful protest to voice his disappointment with the racist behavior of the VC was not appreciated by the university academics.
The president of the National Professors Council (MPN) Raduan Che Rose warned that UM had the right to revoke or withhold Wong’s Bachelor’s Degree certificate.
He said anyone who took part in an official ceremony is subject to protocol, and governed by written and unwritten rules and regulations.
The MPN did not stop there. They even targeted an accounting graduate, Edan Kon Hua En, and tried to deny him his degree certificate because UM feared that he would also stage a similar protest.
This serves to show us that UM’s academics are “yes-men”, and are an extremely touchy lot.
More importantly, no one can recall if Raduan had bothered to criticize the VC for his role in tarnishing UM’s reputation.
At the Malay Dignity Congress held a few weeks before the convocation ceremony, the VC willingly became a political tool for the Ketuanan Melayu brigade. He was also not shameful about exposing his racist credentials.
Most Malaysians would have reacted as Wong did. He was furious that the VC had dragged UM down the racism path.
As for Abdul Rahim, he was upset that a graduate had dared to show dissent in a hall full of graduates, their parents, academic staff, UM’s distinguished guests, and the press pack.
What it all boils down to is his ego. As VC Abdul Rahim felt that his reputation was tarnished at this public event; but, as anyone with half a brain will have realised, it was not Wong who was responsible for bringing shame to UM and Abdul Rahim. The VC had managed it all single-handedly.
Wong will be charged under Section 504 of the Penal Code for the intentional insult with intent to provoke a breach of peace. If convicted, he may face a prison term of up to two years, a fine, or both.
The problem is that many Malaysians fail to reason and think as critically as Wong.
He was right when he said that Abdul Rahim had misused his power and the name of UM to deliver his speech at the Malay Dignity Congress.
The controversial Malay Dignity Congress took place on 6 October 2019 at UM. There were allegations that every residential college in UM had been forced to send Malay students to attend the congress.
When addressing this event which glorified Malay supremacy, Rahim said the change in government after GE14 had eliminated Malay political dominance, and that Malay privileges were being questioned. He warned others not to challenge the social contract.
No one should accept a racist VC in a public university. UM is a place of learning where ideas and knowledge are exchanged, where young Malaysians interact, and where its youth may one day become future leaders.
If anyone is to be charged in court, it should be Abdul Rahim. The magistrate should leave Wong alone.
- Malaysiakini: Ex-Umany president ordered to enter defence over convocation protest
- Free Malaysia Today: Ex-student activist to enter defence over insulting VC
(Mariam Mokhtar is a Freelance Writer.)