Resist the attempt to stifle academic freedom


We, the Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (CENTHRA), Concerned Lawyers for Justice (CLJ), Malaysian Lawyears Circle (MLC), Muslim Lawyers Association Malaysia (PPMM), iPeguam and Young Professionals (YP), strongly protest and condemn the police report lodged by Speaker of the Selangor State Legislative Assembly and Subang Jaya assemblywoman Hannah Yeoh, and her subsequent public statement against Universiti Utara Malaysia academician and professor Dr Kamarul Zaman Yusoff.

On 10th May 2017, Dr Kamarul, who is the UUM’s Malaysian Institute for Political Studies director, wrote a personal Facebook post entitled “Hannah Yeoh Contoh Hipokrasi Terbesar DAP”, in which he reviewed Hannah Yeoh’s autobiography, “Becoming Hannah” and gave his personal, albeit expert, opinion thereon.

Among others, his post postulated that the Democratic Action Party (DAP) is hypocritical in its stand that Malaysia is a secular state when Hannah Yeoh who is from the party, makes it clear in her biography that she uses the political platform afforded to her by her party and Selangor state government posts to facilitate her preaching the Christian faith.

Dr Kamarul substantiated his above opinion with reference to several passages in Yeoh’s book which he quoted verbatim in his initial Facebook post. The post later went viral online and was later picked up and republished by newspapers as well as a few online news portals including Utusan Malaysia, Harakah Daily, Malaysia Today and Free Sabah Today.

Subsequently on 15th May 2017, Hannah Yeoh lodged a police report against Dr Kamarul and alleged therein that he had defamed DAP as a political party. On the same day,  Yeoh also issued a public statement to speak on the police report she has earlier lodged, in which she dismissed Dr Kamarul’s writing as ‘irresponsible’, ‘without basis’ and was written with intention to ‘manipulate racial sentiment’ and attempted to intimidate him into silence by falsely alleging that his post would have dangerous implications for her and DAP members and supporters as a whole.

In response to her police report, on 17th May 2017, Dr Kamarul took it upon himself to lodge a counterpolice report to complain that the book was written with the intention to proselytize her Christian faith to non-Christians including Muslims. Dr Kamarul appended his police report with photographs of relevant extracts taken from the book to back his claim.

The initial police report by Hannah Yeoh against Dr Kamarul Yusoff, an academician whose main discipline is political science and is not beholden to any political party indicates great disrespect for any view that does not favour Hannah Yeoh or causes her to be politically inconvenienced.

Her report clearly amounts to the deprivation of the right of an academician to his academic freedom of speech and expression, a fundamental right that is guaranteed him by Article 10(1)(a) of our Federal Constitution and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Further, the report aims at intimidating and suppressing academicians in Malaysia from expressing their valid and substantiated academic and professional opinion on any political party or politician.

We also abhor and denounce the various comments made on social media directed at the Dr Kamarul for his opinion and condemn the attempt at diverting the issue to one of his own faith in his own religion when clearly that has never been the crux of the issue at hand, which is Yeoh’s own refusal to countenance Dr Kamarul’s opinion of her biography.

We note that this is not Yeoh’s first attempt to silence dissenting views via the lodging of police reports against those who hold them against her. Her own lack of respect for freedom of speech and academic freedom is grotesquely preposterous as well as abysmally inane, and the support shown to her in this matter is patently absurd and exceedingly extreme.

It is evident that respect for the right to hold opinions is fast eroding in our national discourse, with chilling implications therefor. We shudder to think what other potential human rights violations may flow from this particular incident from any subsequent action by Yeoh and her supporters in this regard.

We accordingly call upon fellow Malaysians, regardless of religion or creed, to honour and respect the fundamental rights that are bestowed by our Federal Constitution to all citizens. To this end we urge the Suhakam to immediately open an investigation into Hannah Yeoh and we also call for an investigation by the Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM) into the contents of Hannah Yeoh’s book in line with the provision of Article 11(4) of the Federal Constitution, which prohibits any proselytizing of any non-Islamic religious doctrine to Muslims in Malaysia.


*Press Statement by the Centre for Human Rights Research and Advocacy (CENTHRA), Concerned Lawyers for Justice (CLJ), Malaysian Legal Circle (MLC), Muslim Lawyers Association Malaysia (PPMM), iPeguam and Young Professionals (YP).