Police rapped for arresting 9 students ahead of campus polls

Wong Choon Mei

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 23: Pakatan Rakyat leaders have slammed the police and the Umno-BN government for the arrests of nine university students, who were part of a group that was protesting against unfair and skewed campus election procedures.

“The situation was fine, everyone was calm. It was when the police came and created a scene with their loud hailers and started taking down banners and dragging some students away,” PKR supreme council member Badrul Hisham Shahrin, who is also known as Chegubard, told Harakahdaily.

“By taking this high-handed approach, the police have shown themselves to practice double standards. Why pick on the students today when several weeks ago at the Umno-spearheaded mass protests over the Allah issue, not a single arrest was made,” PAS Youth leader Abdullah Karim told Harakahdaily.

Intimidation and influencing voting pattern

More than 200 students from several public universities, due to hold their campus polls on Sunday, had congregated at Menara Tun Razak in Jalan Raja Laut, Kuala Lumpur before marching to the Sogo shopping complex about half a kilometre away.

They had wanted to distribute flyers to the public and some had carried banners. Most of them belonged student activist groups such as Kumpulan Aktivis Mahasiswa Independen (Kami), Gabungan Mahasiswa Islam Se-Malaysia (Gamis), Gabungan Mahasiswa Bantah E-Voting (Bantah) and Pro-Mahasiswa.

In Malaysia, campus politics are divided between the pro-establishment camp, which is said to have the backing of the campus authority, and the anti-establishment camp. Polls are intensely competitive and traditionally fraught with allegations of irregularities, harassment and intimidation.

“I think it clear that many of the students were from the anti-establishment camp but that is not an excuse for the police to act this way. Today’s march was peaceful and there was no threat to national security. The police would be well-reminded to stay non-partisan. People are getting fed up and are asking if the arrests were intentional, to intimidate and influence the voting pattern tomorrow,” said Abdullah.

What sort of democracy?

The police crackdown intensified after student leader Aizat Salleh gave a short speech once the group – chanting ‘Bangkit Mahasiswa’ or ‘Arise Students’ as they marched – reached Sogo complex.

"We have already submitted a memo to the Higher Education Ministry. We appeal for greater transparency in the election process at all public universities and we urged the authorities to return to us our campus democracy," Aizat told the crowd.

But before he could continue further, he was detained. The other eight arrested were Hilman Idham, Mohammad Za'im Mustapha, Ahmad Shukri Kamarudin, Ahmad Syukri Abdul Razak, Mohammad Idris Yusoff, Fikhri Harun, Syahriul Ismail and Ridhuan Jamil, all of whom belonged to student organisations from universities in the Klang Valley.

They were brought to Dang Wangi district police headquarters for questioning.

“The right to assemble peacefully is a basic democratic right, and especially necessary for university students,” said Chegubard.

“As the inheritors of our future, youths must be given greater room for freedom of expression, greater room to explore and develop their minds. In every country, in every part of the world, this is understood. But apparently not here in Malaysia, where we look like a democratic country. But we are not, we are only a regimented democracy.”

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