PETALING JAYA: The Public Service Department (JPA) should only cut bursaries and scholarships of students if they are convicted of a crime and not because they criticise the government, PKR leader Sivarasa Rasiah said today.
The Subang Jaya MP described the “direct threat” to deny educational funding to deserving and qualified students on the basis of their views as unacceptable and a clear attempt to silence them.
He said such action should only be taken if a student commits a criminal offence.
Scholarships are awarded based on merit and should not be taken away for politically-motivated reasons, he added.
“This kind of move will affect our assessment on freedom of speech internationally,” he told FMT.
“This is what authoritarian governments do. We have seen it in eastern Europe some time back and in China where it is still happening,” he added.
Sivarasa was commenting on JPA director-general Zainal Rahim Seman’s assertion that students could lose their federal sponsorships if they are found to have criticised the government.
Zainal was reported today as justifying the withdrawal of bursaries offered to such students if they are found to have made remarks which can dent the country’s image via social media sites like Facebook and blogs.
The former Penang state secretary was also quoted as saying that scholarships are given to outstanding pupils to help them focus on their studies, and not for them to distribute inaccurate information detrimental to the government.
Sivarasa, a practising lawyer, said Malaysia’s Court of Appeal had previously ruled against a law banning college students from political activities under the 1971 Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA), .
“It is now void. Why is JPA trying to threaten students when the government has accepted the decision (of the court)? It is a direct threat,” he said.
He said JPA should reply to students constructively in public if the information posted on social media is inaccurate.
“If the government says the information is inaccurate then publish your version. Reply to the students. Correct them in public but do not threaten to remove scholarships,” he said.
He said the move is a clear attempt to silence students who are aware of issues affecting the country.
“We should be encouraging such students (to speak out) and not intimidate them with such threats,” he added.
Zainal reportedly said the government provides financial assistance to allow students to focus on their studies to acquire knowledge and become professionals in the future.