AFP, KUALA LUMPUR
Seventeen people were arrested yesterday after police broke up a student gathering for greater academic freedom, in what the opposition and activists said was a campaign to stifle dissent.
Malaysia Prime Minister Najib Razak has pledged to allow greater civil liberties, announcing reforms to security laws slammed as undemocratic, but critics say he is backtracking on his pledges.
Opposition lawyer and activist N. Surendran said police “brutally” broke up a gathering outside a university in northern Perak state early yesterday, adding that one person was taken to hospital after being kicked by officers.
Dozens of students had gathered at about midnight as part of their campaign for greater academic freedom, such as the abolition of a law that bars them from joining or supporting political parties.
They also want university lecturers to be able to express their opinions freely without fear of censure.
“We are quite shocked by the degree of violence,” Surendran said. “There is no doubt that instructions ... were given to intimidate the students and stop the student movement.”
Police could not immediately be reached for comments. Authorities frequently break up gatherings deemed illegal.
In late November, parliament passed a law as part of a campaign to soften tough rules on security, free speech and gatherings.
The assembly law replaces legislation that required a police permit for public gatherings, but critics complain it contains a range of new restrictions, including an outright ban on street marches.
Hundreds have protested against the law, saying it is more restrictive than the police permit scheme.