Disciplinary hearings in institutions of higher learning should be open to all concerned parties; case in point: the hearing on USM student Soh Sook Hwa.
The Centre for Independent Journalism (CIJ) is concerned at the threats levelled against Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) student Soh Sook Hwa if she talks to the media.
Soh had faced a disciplinary panel on Nov 24, 2004 over alleged political activities during the General Election. Under the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) it is a criminal offence for students to participate in campaigning during the General Election and they can be charged in court. The penalty is a fine of up to RM1,000 or imprisonment of not more than six months.
Her lawyer Ang Hean Leng had requested to represent her at the disciplinary hearing, but was refused.
No decision was reached as to her fate. Instead, Ang said that Soh had been told by the disciplinary board not to speak to the media, and reminded that this is also an offence under the UUCA.
While recognising that the UUCA is itself an outdated piece of legislation, inhibiting freedom of thought and expression in the student community and in need of repeal, the CIJ calls for the gag order on Soh to be lifted. This is in the interest of natural justice and will help instil faith in the disciplinary proceedings of the university.
The hearing has implications beyond the campus and is of public interest. For the public to have faith in USM procedures, justice must be seen to done, even within the confines of the UUCA.
The CIJ calls for the repeal of the UUCA and for future disciplinary hearings in institutions of higher learning to be open to the media, lawyers and concerned members of the public, in the interest of transparency and freedom of information.