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Intimidation of students: Time to say ‘enough’

 | November 16, 2016

These leaders of tomorrow should be free to attend or participate in any public event of their choosing.

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Many students, especially those in overseas locations, are asking themselves, “Shall I join the Bersih 5 rally on November 19 or shall I stay home?”

Students are adults. They get their news from both the mainstream and alternative media. They know that all is not well in Malaysia. They are aware of corruption, inflated project costs, collapsing infrastructure, reduced funding, social injustice and open thuggery on the streets at home.

The typical student would like to think that he is a responsible Malaysian and would be happy to contribute to the heightening of social awareness.

Some government scholarship holders may have received text messages to the effect that the body that oversees the wellbeing of Malaysian students “has received complaints that they are embarking on activities that could be termed anti-government.”

Typically, events that the Malaysian High Commission or embassy describes as “anti-government” are lectures by opposition politicians, Malaysian human rights activists and Bersih delegates.

To go by anecdotal evidence, these messages are followed up with lengthy letters warning the students about the repercussions of participating in these activities.

Similar clauses are written in scholarship contracts. Perhaps student leaders should challenge these.

If a student is old enough to drive a car, smoke cigarettes, have sex, get married and travel on his own passport, why can’t he attend a lecture of his own choosing?

The messages and letters advise students “to concentrate fully” on their studies and academic development, to work hard and become successful so as to fulfill the main objective of their sponsorship and the hopes of their families as well as their country.

If news leaks that a student has told someone about the threatening letter or that he has attended the prohibited event, he risks having his scholarship withdrawn.

Students are the leaders of tomorrow. Their voices are important, but the voice of the student who receives the threatening letter is silenced. He cannot publicly admit that he has received the letter.

No one likes to have to tell his parents that his scholarship has been revoked. The shame, as well as the debt that his family will have to repay, would be too much to bear.

Is it morally right of the government to intimidate students in this manner? Why are students not allowed to listen to a lecture and make up their own minds about what they hear? Why are they not allowed to take part in discussions on matters that affect their future? And why are they encouraged to attend talks by Umno-Baru politicians? Why this double standard?

Last year, activist lawyer Ambiga Sreenevasan told a Malaysian audience in London: “We must all work together to dismantle this process of intimidation. The government has been mean to some students who took part in Bersih rallies in various countries.

“If the students come out in sufficient numbers, it will be difficult for the government to target them. How many scholarships can they revoke? How many students can they punish?

“Students must be made to know that they will not be alone.”

Ambiga also said that if the government were to target them, the students must stand up and speak with one voice and take a legal stand.

So, whether you join the Bersih 5 rally depends on how much you care about your country and your future. Be creative. Wear dark glasses, re-use your Halloween mask, wrap your head in a yellow scarf, or just be yourself.
You are Malaysia’s future and your voice must be heard.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist

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