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News from home: Month of big changes in Malaysia

Meld Magazine

Mon Apr 23 2012

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FROM undergrads being allowed to participate in politics to new laws replacing the feared ISA, Malaysian correspondent Jowee Tee brings you updates from home.

The Malaysian Government to repeal the ISA

After decades of misuse and abuse, the Malaysian government will finally repeal its controversial Internal Security Act (ISA).

The ISA had been the subject of much criticism over the last 52 years for being used as a political tool to circumvent the legal system. Under this law, suspects could be detained without trial and detained indefinitely.

Note-worthy individuals who had been arrested under this law included Hindraf leaders, political activists such as Wong Chin-Huat, journalists and bloggers such as Raja Petra Kamaruddin and former deputy prime minister Anwar Ibrahim.

The Malaysian congress passed the new bill, the Security Offenses (Special Measures) Act 2012, last week and when  finalised, it will see the eventual repeal of the ISA.

Some of the main reforms under the new law include:

  • Home ministers no longer having the power to detain suspects without trial.
  • Suspects having a maximum detention of 28 days.
  • No arrests made solely based on a person’s political beliefs or political activity.

The tabling of the Bill drew positive reactions on all fronts of the political divide as well as praise from Prime Minister David Cameron who recently visited the country.

He said the move had been “the right response in my view to the extremism and violence that has blighted so many lives around the world”.

But eventhough the ISA is to be repealed, Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Tun Dr. Najib Tun Razak said this does not change the state of the detainees currently under arrest.

“Let it be known that even though this Bill repeals the ISA 1960, the Bill will not affect the detention of persons currently under detention, unless their detention orders are revoked by the Home Minister,” he said.

Ban on students engaging in political activities revoked

Malaysia has lifted a ban on undergraduate university students participating in political parties under legal amendments passed through Parliament on Thursday.

The new University and University Colleges (Amendment) Bill 2012 will now allow students to hold posts in both political and student bodies after the controversial Section 15 (12)(c) was removed from the act.

Section 15 (12) (c) used to read: “A student of the University may become a member of any society, organisation, body or group of person, whether in our outside Malaysia, including any political party. A student of the University shall not stand for election or hold any post in any society, organisation, body or group of students in the campus if the student holds any post in a political party.”

The restrictions were introduced so students would retain “neutrality” in their institutions and to ensure academic pursuits were not disrupted by political involvement.

But the controversial clause was scrapped after UMNO Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin argued the case that prohibiting students from holding posts in university was contradictory to the ideals for furthering students’ growth.

National Student Representative Council (MPMN) president Mohd Syahid Mohd Zaini once described the restriction as a step backwards and “unnecessary”.

“As long as the students behave professionally, they can balance all the tasks out and still maintain their grades,” he said.

“It would be perfectly acceptable for any student holding a high position in campus to bring his or her own political ideology in, provided they respect the university’s laws and regulations.”

Students attacked while protesting  government loans


Student activists calling for the abolishment of a controversial government tertiary education loan scheme have been attacked by a gang of thugs.

A group of 60 men dressed in black T-shirts kicked and beat members of the group, seriously injuring 30 men and women.

The students had been camping out at Merdeka Square since April 16 to lobby for free education after being disenchanted by pay-back terms and conditions of the government’s National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN).

Bystanders have reported while they saw police present, none of them took any action against the attackers.

But Kuala Lumpur police chief DCP Datuk Mohmad Salleh denied his personnel had failed to respond.

He said upon seeing the assault, two of his detectives called in for back up and patrol cars arrived within five minutes.

“Two of my detectives who were there when the attack took place rushed in to help but they too were attacked and suffered injuries,” he said.

Critics have called the protestors students who do not want  to hold to their commitments to pay back the loans as it is believed that some of the protestors are PTPTN holders themselves.

Opposition Youth Secretary Dr. Dominic Lau from Gerakan said he felt the PTPN had served its purpose.

“In my opinion, PTPTN helps many students especially those from a poor family as well as those who failed to obtain scholarship or loan from any Chinese clan associations and social organisations to further study in the university,” he said.

“Protest is not our culture, undergraduates should channel their views through the student councils to the Ministry of Higher Education,” he added.

The Ministry of Higher Education said a total of 1,926,054 students had benefited from the loans over the past fifteen years.