Do we really have free speech?

This article has been published anonymously in order to protect the identity of the author. Both the author and ASASIkini look forward to the day when such anonymity is no longer necessary.

Everyone should be entitled to freedom of speech and expression, as per guaranteed in Article 10 of our Constitution (albeit subject to certain restrictions). As citizens living in a democratic country, we should be entitled to not only having a chance to vote during elections, but also to be able to critically discuss and engage with pressing issues faced within the political realm. Although, in general, we do get this opportunity to speak freely about political issues amongst the people around us, but in reality, it is rather difficult to do so openly, especially as students confined in institutions that are tangled with webs of political links and pressures.

Institutional constraints

I was a student at an institution similar to what has been described above – one that is heavily linked politically, due to it being owned by a government-linked company. Despite continuous reassurances and promises that students there would be treated and nurtured as adults stepping into the ‘real world’, the reality was that we were made to conform to their strict rules and regulations. I will not be touching on all of the issues faced by the students in this institution, but instead I will be just focusing on a particular experience of mine which, in my view, downright stripped our liberties as Malaysians.

free speech quote

Human Rights Watch calls for Malaysia to stop punishing students for speech. Source: https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/02/21/malaysia-stop-punishing-students-speech

‘Controversial’ speakers?

I was chosen to lead and direct a prestigious annual event which saw students from schools and colleges all around Malaysia gathering for an entire day, mainly to discuss about pertinent societal, economic, and political issues that faced our nation at that time. As a norm, based on previous years, we invited well-known, qualified individuals, all excelling at their individual fields, as guest speakers to shed a light on important issues that surrounded the nation at the time. This included inviting speakers from both the ruling party in Malaysia as well as individuals who were either a part of the opposition party, or were known for being openly critical about the governing party.

After months of hard work in preparing for the event, with just a month left to go before the day of the event itself, we were instructed by the higher authorities within our institution to either disinvite the opposition speakers, or to indefinitely postpone the event until speakers who were ‘better suited’ could replace them. Their main underlying reason for doing so was due to their concern of the so-called ‘controversial’ speakers; they were worried that they would openly challenge the government within the confinement of students, which would lead to the tarnishing of the institution’s image, as viewed by the management and authorities controlling the institution.

“After months of hard work in preparing for the event, with just a month left to go before the day of the event itself, we were instructed by the higher authorities within our institution to either disinvite the opposition speakers, or to indefinitely postpone the event…”

We were, of course, outraged. The main reason for the event being held every year was to provide a platform for the bright, young minds of the nation to freely and openly discuss pressing national issues; the changes proposed by the authorities fundamentally undermined this. As a result, we came to a consensus to cancel the event altogether, in an effort to preserve the integrity of the event. What happened to us were, of course, alarming, but it was not surprising. There are, in fact, many cases where ‘controversial’ speakers were outright banned from giving talks and presentations in universities across Malaysia. There were also situations where polemical topics were barred from being discussed in classrooms. These incidents still persist within the field of education in our country today.

anis-tangkapmo1

In 2016, four Universiti Malaya (UM) students were found guilty of participating in the “Tangkap MO1” rally. Photo source: http://bestfbkl.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/four-universiti-malaya-um-students-who.html

As a law student studying in the UK now, I am rather surprised at the liberties given to both the students and lecturers. Here, it is commonplace to critically debate about political topics within classes and lectures, and guest speakers are, unlike Malaysia, encouraged to touch on controversial issues (such as Brexit and the competence of the Conservative Party). In contrast, we cannot even make open statements about the 1MDB scandal without having fears of political backlash by relevant authorities.

Capture

Malaysia was ranked 97 out of 159 countries in the Human Freedom Index run by Cato Institute. Source: https://www.cato.org/human-freedom-index

The future of free speech in Malaysia

The important question now arises: how are we progressing as a democratic nation when the education of students (as future leaders of the country) are hindered and clouded by political agendas? It is extremely disappointing to see the freedom and rights of students in Malaysia being diminished this way. Open discourse and intellectual pursuits should be encouraged, not undermined.Freedom of speech is essential for change, and has been crucial throughout history, and only once this freedom is restored, will it allow society to further develop and progress. I certainly hope that this pressing issue faced within the realms of our education system will be addressed and amended in the near future, and that the young minds of our generation will be made aware of challenges such as these which ultimately hamper the progress of our country.


This article has been published anonymously in order to protect the identity of the author. Both the author and ASASIkini look forward to the day when such anonymity is no longer necessary.


ASASIkini tries its best to share reliable content from third parties without prejudice and with a firm belief in freedom of expression. All articles are strictly the writer’s personal opinion. ASASIkini and KPUM do not necessarily endorse the views or opinions of the writers.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s