Constitutional law expert Abdul Aziz Bari's colleagues in the legal and academic fraternity are standing shoulder to shoulder with the professor suspended by the Universiti Islam Antarabangsa (UIA).
In a press statement yesterday, the Association of Universiti Malaya Academic Staff (PKAUM) raised objections over the action, calling it a "gross violation of (Abdul Aziz's) academic freedom (and) his general right to expression".
Echoing Abdul Aziz's defence, PKAUM president and associate professor of law Azmi Sharom (left), said that the Sedition Act allows for constructive criticism of a ruler.
bloggers universe malaysia 010508 azmi sharom"In the case of (Abdul) Aziz, what he has done is merely to suggest that a ruler had acted beyond his constitutional bounds.
"This is a legitimate comment with no statement, direct or implied, made to incite hatred against the ruler," the UM lecturer said, calling also for a halt of the police sedition probe against Abdul Aziz.
He added that as an academic, Abdul Aziz will be approached for comments on matters related to his field, and "his duty is to use his expertise to enlighten the public in current issues related to his field".
Azmi said any academic must be allowed to do so, and action taken against the professor would "instill fear in the academic community".
"It is an indication that there is no academic freedom in Malaysia and when there is no academic freedom it is impossible for any development in our nation's intellectual capacity," he said.
Thousands throw in support
Meanwhile, NGO Lawyers for Liberty said that Abdul Aziz's persecution is a "clear denial of his basic right to freedom of speech guaranteed under Article 10 of the federal constitution."
The group of human rights lawyers, which also consists of UIA alumni, too, expressed dismay over curtailment of academic freedom, which it states is a "pre-requisite for Malaysia's transformation".
"This suspension is a mockery of the Najib administration's so-called 'greater reforms' to make Malaysia a more democratic and liberalised nation," said its member Afiq M Noor in a statement yesterday.
Afiq also called on the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission to "not step beyond its boundaries" in its investigation of Abdul Aziz and news portal Malaysiakini, which carried his comments.
PSM secretary-general S Arutchelvan said that the university’s excuse that Abdul Aziz’s statement “went against its interests is a lame excuse for suspension”.
“This sends a strong message that the views of academics are only acceptable if it supports the ruling party,” he said, raising suspicion of political interference.
He added that “brave pro-people lawyers” have come out from the professor’s tutelage and the university should apologise and reinstate the professor immediately.
At the time of writing, the Facebook support page 10,000 mahasiswa menyokong penuh Profesor Dr Abdul Aziz Bari set up yesterday had attracted over 9,164 supporters as at the time of writing.
Another support Facebook page Kami Bantah Penggantungan Dr Aziz Bari, also set up yesterday, had drawn more than 5,500 supporters.
Deputy ministers voice concern
Deputy Higher Education Minister Saifuddin Abdullah (right) had also expressed dismay over UIA's action.
NONE "I am distrubed and saddened by the case...I may not agree with everything (Abdul Aziz) says and if he is wrong, then he should be punished.
"But the matter is under investigation, so the decision to suspend (Abdul Aziz) raises questions," he said in a text message to Malaysiakini.
Saifuddin added that a report has been sought from the university on the matter.
He also acknowledged that students are planning to demonstrate in support of the law professor, and that "it is their right to do so".
Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Gan Ping Sieu, too, expressed his concern on the microblogging site, Twitter, today: "Though I don't agree with many of Professor Aziz Bari's legal viewpoints, as a UIA (alumnus) I find his suspension by UIA really disturbing."
Penang Deputy Chief Minister Mansor Othman said: “The suspension is strange and a backward act and is against the perspective of encouraging critical minds among intellectuals. Any issue in the academic field needs academic answers and debates and should not be responded to with political power.
“Are we heading towards the likes of East Africa in our political will to kill the intellectual community? The ones who do not want to remain silent have to leave the country. I pray we do not come to this stage,” he said.
Mansor said the action against Aziz is not in line with Najib’s call to produce quality human capital (modal insan) to promote higher income and development by having qualified and motivated staff in public institutions of higher learning.
“Universities are the last bastion of intellectual tradition. If they are dragged into the arena of politics, these institutions will lose their intellectual mission.”
Abdul Aziz has been suspended pending investigation on his comments, relating to the royal decree on the Selangor Islamic Affairs Department search of the Damansara Utama Methodist Church on Aug 3.
He will have to respond to a show-cause letter by Oct 25.