Pressure on Universiti Islam Antarabangsa (UIA) rector Zaleha Kamaruddin is mounting, with condemnation continuing to flow for the university's suspension of law professor Abdul Aziz Bari.
Hours after several hundreds of undergraduates protested in the campus this afternoon, the UIA Academic Staff Union (PKA-UIAM) issued a strongly worded statement in support of Aziz.
"We are aggrieved by the external interference in the country's education system that should be free and professional," it said.
The union added that accusations directed at Aziz, who is a "competent and qualified" professor, only served to hurt the country's international reputation.
"Any country that wants its university to be admired and respected as an international university must support, respect and defend academic freedom."
Citing Quranic verses in defence of Aziz, the union said he should be given a token of appreciation for provoking the thoughts of the nation and should not be punished because of the reaction of some others.
"We do not want this action to become precedent in the future, for it will impede intellectual contributions from academicians on national issues, be it sensitive or otherwise."
The group also cited a Unesco recommendation on higher education on the right of academicians “to contribute to social change through freely expressing their opinions of state policies and of policies affecting higher education”.
‘PM’s promise inconsistent’
Human rights group Suaram joined in the chorus condemning the actions against Aziz, describing his suspension as politically-motivated and a violation of the freedom of expression.
“The prime minister on Sept 15 made a public statement on human rights reforms and shared his vision of Malaysia aspiring to the ranks of developed nations, but the events taking place run contrary to his statement..." Suaram programme manager E Nalini (right) said.
Aziz as a constitutional law expert, Nalini said, was professionally obligated to comment on the issue and disciplinary action for those comments would impede the country's democratic process.
Describing the pressure exerted on academicians as an "embarrassment", PKR president Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail called on the university to solve the fiasco amicably so as not to taint the "culture of knowledge".
"PKR's view is that the action reduces the status of academicians in carrying out their daily duties in expressing their expert views and opinions."
The party's information chief, Muhammad Nur Manuty, called on UIA to withdraw the suspension and issue and immediately apologise to Aziz.
"It is clear his statement does not insult or question the Sultan of Selangor in anyway... What has happened is that his reaction has been spun and sensationalised by the media aligned with Umno," said the former lecturer.
‘UIA’s reputation hurt’
Echoing this was DAP's Bukit Tunku assemblyperson Lau Weng San, who pointed out that the suspension of Aziz was intended to silence views that differ from that of the authorities.
"How can our country achieve the status of a developed nation if the authorities constantly silence views that differ from theirs using authoritarian means?"
Lau (left), a former student activist, added that this episode would have long-term repercussions on the country's reputation as UIA is an international university.
In a scathing attack on the UIA management, PAS Youth leader Nasruddin Hassan said academic discipline was straightforward, compared with the "discipline of apple-polishing".
"Aziz has not done anything criminal other than expressing his views and criticism based on his knowledge and expertise. Even though he touched on the sultan, his comments were within the academic discipline.
Nasruddin added that if UIA was unable to improve its performance, the very least it could do was not to ruin its reputation and lift Aziz's suspension.
Rector moves to quell protest
Reacting to the chorus of condemnation, UIA rector Zaleha responded with a statement via social networking site Facebook.
"I know this is a sensitive issue and I would like to assure you all that it will be handled with complete fairness, having the best interests of IIUM (UIA in Malay) at heart.
“We should not be divided, but we should know that this is a test and hardship that we must face in unity," Zaleha (right) wrote in her posting.
Aziz was yesterday suspended from his lecturing duties and his access to UIA was revoked for comments made over the Selangor sultan's recent decree on the Damansara Utama Methodist Church controversy.
He had described the decree as "unusual" and "inconsistent", stating that any such royal intervention must abide by the principles of Islam.
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