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Malaysian students challenge their government’s attempts to limit activism

Sumisha Naidu

Tue Aug 30 2011

Bersih 2 Melbourne Rally

MALAYSIANS in Australia have challenged attempts by the Malaysian government to stop them from participating in a movement for “free and fair elections” back home or Bersih 2.0.

On June 24, Education Malaysia Sydney (EMAS) – a body under the Malaysian Ministry for Higher Education – issued a warning to  Malaysian students in Australia stating they would “co-operate with the Australian authorities to take appropriate action in accordance with applicable law” if students were involved in Bersih-related demonstrations on July 9.

Australian National University student and Bersih supporter Greg Lopez contested the warning, lodging a report  with the Australian Federal Police (AFP) against Education Malaysia Sydney (EMAS).

“I lodged the report because I believe that EMAS blatantly stated a lie (by alleging Australian authorities would help them). Our experience has been the polar opposite. Local councils, city councils, and the AFP have been most supportive of our efforts,” he said.

But an AFP spokesperson said EMAS’s actions could not be investigated by the AFP.

“The AFP evaluated the information provided and no Commonwealth offences were identified. It is not appropriate for the AFP to comment further,” the spokesperson said.

The High Commission of Malaysia did not respond when approached for comment.

University of Melbourne law expert Dr Amanda Whiting said the lack of action taken against Bersih ralliers by AFP, however, was indicative that EMAS’s claim was completely inaccurate.

“Either EMAS were mistaken in their understanding of Australian law and the role of the Australian federal and state police, or they were perhaps reckless in not checking the relevant laws before making such a statement,” she said.

“Either way, their warning to Malaysian students in Australia was based on an inaccurate understanding of Australian law and politics, and it clearly did not deter Malaysians from attending the rallies in Australia.”

Meanwhile, concerns have also been raised over warnings sent out by the Public Service Department of Malaysia (JPA) to government-sponsored students in Australia.

Prior to the Bersih 2.0 rally, JPA scholarship students in Australia received reminders of the terms and conditions of their scholarships which included not participating in any groups or demonstrations deemed political or detrimental to Malaysia’s image by the government .

One of Melbourne’s Bersih rally organisers, David Teoh, said this was unfair as he said JPA students were allowed to participate in Kelab UMNO – a club affiliated with Malaysia’s ruling government party.

“If they’re not allowed to participate in political activities, then none of the government scholars should be members of Kelab UMNO,” he said.

Mr Teoh added that students had told him  they had been approached by JPA for using Bersih PicBadges in their display photos on their personal Facebook pages.

“I don’t think that constitutes a breach of their scholarship conditions. It’s none of the government’s business what they put on Facebook,” he said.