After more than a year, the journey of the infamous UKM4 finally came to an end with the acquittal of all four students by the university. Woon King Chai, one of the four, shares with us his thoughts on the final leg of this journey.
“Pihak Berkuasa Tatatertib mendapati saudara tidak disabitkan dengan perbuatan yang menyalahi Seksyen 15(5)(a) Akta Universiti & Kolej Universiti 1971.”
(The Disciplinary Board has determined that you are not found to be guilty of any offences violating Section 15(5)(a) of University & University Colleges Act 1971)
Finally, after 1 year 12 weeks and 6 days (that’s 454 days in total) since our arrest on 22 April 2010, the disciplinary charge against the four of us under Section 15(5)(a) of AUKU was finally dropped; and our anxiety and worries over the possibility of not graduating with a degree after putting in three years of hard work is finally laid to rest. Who would’ve thought, huh?
Just a quick recap of what happened in the past one year plus: We were first arrested on 22 April 2010 during the Hulu Selangor by-election for allegedly expressing support/sympathy/opposition to political parties contesting the by-election and received a letter from the university on 13 May 2010 ordering us to appear before a disciplinary panel to answer a charge that we violated Section 15(5)(a) of AUKU because the police and university officials found packages of political fliers in the vehicle that we were travelling in.
We managed to file an application to the KL High Court on 1 June 2010, seeking to declare Section 15(5)(a) of AUKU unconstitutional on basis that it violates our right as Malaysians to freedom of expression. It was also through that application to the court that we obtained an injunction to prevent the university from proceeding with the disciplinary hearing.
At the height of our case, students’ participation in politics became a national issue open for debate thanks to the relentless push by Dato’ Saifuddin Abdullah, Deputy Minister of Higher Education, for students to be given their right to learn and make decisions for themselves whether to be involved in politics or not, rather than to have it dictated and decided for them by higher authorities.
So, the KL High Court finally heard our application after a few adjournments and on 28 September 2010, the High Court dismissed our application, holding that the UUCA was a reasonable restriction to Freedom of Expression and is justifiable on grounds of Public Morality. We have since appealed to the Court of Appeal in Putrajaya and even though our counsel has submitted on our appeal, the court has yet to fix a date to give its decision on the matter. And so we wait.
However, on 4 July 2011, all four of us finally proceeded with the disciplinary hearing and appeared before a panel of six people, from various background and departments within the university — I only recognized one though, the chair of the disciplinary panel, who is also the Deputy Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Department in the university.
Before entering the chambers for our respective disciplinary proceeding, we can’t help but to think of the various nightmare stories of how such proceedings are conducted in other universities, where those charged were not given enough time to explain themselves and natural justice was disregarded. Many of them were dealt with promptly and punished unfairly. Some were really harsh, to the point of suspension and even expulsion.
Credit where credit is due, the disciplinary panel that heard my case on 4 July 2011 in the university were fair and gave me ample opportunity to give reasons for my presence in Hulu Selangor and also to explain the wrapped packages of political fliers found in the van that I was travelling in. We were half-expecting the panel to open a can of whoop-ass on us with their legal advisors questioning our every statement because let’s face it: under Section 16 of AUKU, we are not allowed any legal representation during the disciplinary proceedings in the university and to be prosecuted by someone who is legally trained, when oneself is not, can be a rather migraine-inducing experience.
For my proceeding at the university, I was given ample time and opportunity to give my side of the story without interruptions from the panel. It’s true that sometimes, one will just have to take that leap of faith by trusting the system in order to get through, but at the same time, the rules and guidelines governing such a process or procedure must be clear enough to expunge any danger of bias or partiality. The transformation process must be spearheaded by ideals that empower our students, who in turn can contribute even greater to their respective universities and also the society around them.
Now that the university has decided that we did not commit any offences under the Act, we can finally put the matter to rest. The million dollar question (soalan cepu emas) right now for all four of us is, “What’s next?”
The lessons that we have learned throughout this long and difficult journey of more than a year, from the opportunities that we have lost due to the on-going proceedings to the personal attacks made against us by various quarters; we aim to give the same level of support and encouragement to others facing the same kind predicament.
From my view, the most valuable lesson that I have learnt from this entire episode is to never fear and never give up. Civil and political change is not something that is achieved overnight. Change of this nature requires perseverance, dedication and an indomitable will from everyone. Change akin to this tests our political will as a nation and only strengthens us as Malaysians.
To all those who have given us their unceasing support and encouragement – civil society, NGOs and students – I am most grateful. For all else who may be facing their own challenges, let’s continue to move together!
There are too many articles written about the case so far and it’s impossible to list them all. Here’s a short list of articles concerning not just the UKM4 but also AUKU in general:
Snapshots from 28 September 2010 – Decision for constitutional challenge on Section 15(5)(a) of UUCA 1971: