The Malaysian Government Must Stop Persecuting Malaysian Student Overseas

I have been made aware that Aslam Abd Jalil, one of our students at the Australian National University (ANU), Canberra was on 18 June 2014 issued a show cause letter by our Public Services Department (PSD). Aslam is, for the record, a PSD scholar.

The letter which was e-mailed to Aslam was from one Shahrezan Md Sheriff, who holds the position of Australian Education and Training Advisor for the PSD.

The reason Aslam was sent the letter was because he took part in a forum on Malaysian current affairs at ANU on 22 April 2014 with Tony Pua, the MP for Petaling Jaya Utara. The title of the forum was ‘Race, Religion, Royalty with YB Tony Pua’.

In doing so, Aslam apparently violated Clause 5.5 of his scholarship agreement with the Federal Government, which, among other things, prohibits Malaysian scholars from taking part in “seditious activities or demonstrations…that in the opinion of the government, will have a deleterious effect on Malaysia’s interests or any educational institution” (“penghasutan atau tunjuk perasaan…yang pada pendapat Kerajaan, adalah memudaratkan kepentingan Malaysia atau sesuatu institusi pendidikan”).

Aslam has been ordered to produce a written explanation within 24 hours and failing which, the Government will take action against him.

I am of course not surprised at these actions because it follows a long pattern of Malaysian officials attempting to intimidate our students abroad into avoiding events featuring opposition politicians.

As a student in the United Kingdom about a decade ago, my Malaysian friends and I were also frequently warned and intimidated against taking part in such activities. I received a similar letter like Aslam’s in 2002 for organising together with the current MP for Pandan, Rafizi Ramli a forum in London featuring Nurul Izzah Anwar, currently the MP for Lembah Pantai.

That was during the era of Dr Mahathir Mohamad. The recent incident however highlights what a sham the so-called political transformation of the UMNO-BN government of Najib Razak is, when Malaysian students exercising their freedom of speech as well as intellectual inquiry are subject to harassment and intimidation.

In fact, Aslam also spoke at a forum together with Selangor Speaker Hannah Yeoh and I on 26 May 2014.

For the record, nothing about either of these sessions were in any way seditious or against Malaysia’s national interests—unless one considers honest and open debate a threat to the country.

Recordings of the two events can be found online at: http://bit.ly/1inGUQB and http://bit.ly/1plet6A respectively.

Will the Prime Minister, the Minister of Education, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Malaysian High Commision in Australia and the PSD kindly state what they have against students like Aslam taking part in a series of forums on current affairs?

Will the abovementioned parties also state why they believe the forums were against Malaysia’s national interests, especially given that it involved three public, elected officials—namely a Speaker and Deputy Speaker of a state assembly, as well as a Federal MP?

At the same time, the Commonwealth Government of Australia, the Australian Capital Territory and the Australian High Commission to Malaysia as well as the administration of ANU, should take note of the fact that a student of one of their universities is being subjected to what is frankly an act of political prosecution.

I hope that Malaysians at home and abroad will stand by Aslam. He is a courageous and brilliant young Malaysian whose only crime was to have stood up for what he believed in.