Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Courtroom packed as supporters await professor’s sedition charge

Published: 2 September 2014
Universiti Malaya law professor Azmi Sharom arrives at Jalan Duta Court with his lawyer Gobind Singh today. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Afif Abd Halim, September 2, 2014. 
Universiti Malaya law professor Azmi Sharom arrives at Jalan Duta Court with his lawyer Gobind Singh today. – The Malaysian Insider pic by Afif Abd Halim, September 2, 2014.
Academics, activists, students and lawyers packed into the small courtroom in the Kuala Lumpur High Court this morning in a show of support for Universiti Malaya (UM) law professor Azmi Sharom, who is expected to be charged with sedition today.
The collective sentiment among the people waiting for proceedings to begin was disbelief that an academic could face punishment for sharing his expert views with the media.
Quips of “Who will be charged next?" and “The lawyers must be so used to handling such cases" could be heard among the waiting crowd, some whom had been standing in the courtroom for two hours.
Dressed in a dark blue shirt and black trousers with his hair pulled back in a ponytail, Azmi himself appeared relaxed and jovial as he spoke to his colleagues and moved around the packed courtroom.

The UM academic staff association head will be the first academic to be hauled up by Putrajaya and charged under the Sedition Act.

The law lecturer will be charged over an article titled "Take Perak crisis route for speedy end to Selangor impasse, Pakatan told" which was published in an online news portal on August 14.

"If you believe in world class universities, academics should be allowed to make professional comments. He is from the law faculty. He shouldn't be charged," Rosli Mahat, vice-president of the UM academic staff association, told The Malaysian Insider.

Rosli was present with several other UM staff and said the action against Azmi was an affront to the education institution.

"I know that Azmi, whatever he says, choose his words carefully. He knows what is right and wrong," said Rosli.

Safwan Shamsuddin, the chairman of student group Pro Mahasiswa UM, told The Malaysian Insider that he had gathered 20 students today to support the professor.

He said the students were fed up with the authorities using the Sedition Act to muzzle individuals seemingly critical of the government.

"It's like they are playing around with us. They announced they would repeal it, but now they are taking action again," he said.

"It's obvious that they are using any means to persecute government detractors, including students and lecturers. First, it was Professor Redzuan Othman, now Professor Azmi."

In July, Redzuan, a lecturer with UM, said he was sacked as director of Universiti Malaya's Centre for Democracy and Elections (UMcedel).

His tenure as dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences in the university was also not renewed.

Over the past few years, UMcedel's survey findings on Malaysian politics have irked Putrajaya for their unflattering analyses on the ruling Barisan Nasional.

The past few weeks have witnessed the largest crackdown since October 1987's Operasi Lalang.

In recent days, a number of opposition politicians – PKR vice-president Rafizi Ramli, Padang Serai MP N. Surendran (PKR), Shah Alam MP and PAS central committee member Khalid Samad, and Seri Delima assemblyman R.S.N. Rayer (DAP) – have all been charged under the Sedition Act.

Seputeh MP Teresa Kok (DAP) and Batu MP Tian Chua (PKR) are also facing trial for sedition, while former Perak MP and Changkat Jering assemblyman Nizar Jamaluddin (PAS) was charged with criminal defamation for a statement he had allegedly made two years ago.

The slew of sedition charges comes two years after Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak first promised to repeal the Sedition Act 1948.

Najib in July 2013 announced for the second time his intention to repeal the 66-year-old act when he was interviewed by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), saying it would be replaced by a new National Harmony Act.

But critics of the act have observed that since Najib’s announcement, an increasing number of opposition politicians are being charged for sedition.

In a statement three days ago, the Prime Minister's Office said the government would repeal the Sedition Act and replace it with the National Harmony Bill as pledged, adding that it was currently in drafting stage. – September 2, 2014.

- See more at: http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/malaysia/article/courtroom-packed-as-supporters-await-professors-sedition-charge#sthash.bJtyDR4S.dpuf

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