Kuala Lumpur. A Malaysian court ruled on Monday that a law banning college students from political activities was unconstitutional, in a move hailed by the ban’s opponents as a landmark decision.
Students have long campaigned for a repeal of the 1971 Universities and University Colleges Act, which bars them from joining political parties and trade unions, saying the ban violates human rights and free speech.
Malaysia’s Court of Appeal ruled that the law contravened constitutionally protected freedom of expression.
“This is a landmark decision,” said lawyer Ashok Kandiah, who represented four former political science students in challenging the ban. “The net effect is that students are free to participate in political activities now.”
However, a lawyer representing the International University of Malaysia — attended by the students — told the court he would appeal the decision to the Federal Court, Malaysia’s highest.
The four students launched the court challenge last year after the university threatened them with disciplinary action after they were accused of campaigning for Malaysia’s political opposition in a local by-election. The Kuala Lumpur High Court had earlier upheld the ban’s constitutionality. The students were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.
Ahmad Syazwan Muhammad Hasan, of the Islamic student organisation Gamis, welcomed the decision. “UUCA was implemented to block the student movement. It breaks our social freedom,” he said.
The law was amended in 1975 to include the politics ban in the wake of large-scale political demonstrations the previous year by university students protesting government economic policies.
Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak pledged in September that the universities law would be reviewed.