article was the Page One lead article in the Cambridge University
Student Union Newspaper, "Varsity ", issue 254 dated 6 October 2000.
Anger at PM's visit
By Elizabeth Day and Ben Sheriff
The Cambridge University Malaysian Society is embroiled in controversy this
week over its decision to invite the Malaysian Prime Minister to speak at a
forum, in spite of Malaysia's recent human rights record.
The conference, 'Malaysia in the New Millennium', will be held tomorrow.
According to CUMAS President, Tan Khoon Tee, its sole aim is to bring
together "key Malaysian policy-makers to discuss current Malaysian
issues". Yet the Cambridge Coalition for a Free Malaysia has written to the
University Chancellor Prince Philip protesting against the invitation
extended to Dr Mahathir Mohamad and claiming the support of a Cambridge
Nobel Prize winner for their protest. They accuse the Malaysian Premier of
using restrictive legislation such as the Internal Security Act to curb
freedom of expression and association.
The allegations surround Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, who was
dismissed from his post in September 1998 by Dr Mohamad, arrested and
severely beaten in custody. At his trial, witnesses reversed their
previous testimony and Anwar's lawyer was jailed, leading to near-universal
condemnation of the Malaysian regime by human rights groups worldwide.
Amnesty International is staging a peaceful protest outside the conference
venue, Lady Mitchell Hall, on Saturday. Clare Hinkley Smith, Cambridge
University Amnesty President, plans to be there "to give voice to the
concerns of Malaysian students unable to express themselves freely". Almost
all Malaysian students at Cambridge are government funded scholars and
therefore unable to protest openly.
Amidst this growing furore, several economists and academics from Cambridge
University are allegedly boycotting the conference, citing previous
commitments and withdrawing their participation. In spite of an
invitation, and CUMAS' initial insistence that he would be participating,
University Vice-Chancellor Professor Sir Alec Broers will not be attending,
"due to a longstanding prior engagement," although it was understood until
quite recently that he would be there.
He will instead be sending his deputy, Mrs Anne Lonsdale. The
Vice-Chancellor said, "Malaysia sends more students to Cambridge today than
any other Commonwealth country and its students are highly motivated with
an impressive record of achievement. They are also forward-looking, as
illustrated by their organisation of the 'Malaysia in the New Millennium'
conference, the importance of which is indicated by the attendance of the
Professor Amartya Sen, Master of Trinity College and a former Nobel Prize
winner was also unable to attend "owing to previous ngagements".
Speculation from some sources has linked Professor Sen with the Coalition
for a Free Malaysia's claim of support from a Nobel Prize Winner.
Mr Michael Kitson of St Catharine's College, who will be speaking at the
conference, refused to comment on the Malaysian regime's human rights
record. The reluctance at the highest levels of the university to give the
CUMAS forum an official stamp of approval has not dampened Tan Khoon Tee's
enthusiasm for the conference. The CUMAS President said, "The very fact
that the Malaysian Prime Minister has agreed to attend proves that he is
willing to answer any allegations."
Further defending the forum from an onslaught of criticism, Tan Khoon Tee
said this week that the Prime Minister's opponents "have the right to
express an opinion but the way in which they express it needs due
consideration. Quite a lot of the opposition is motivated by personal
sentiment or loyalty to someone."
Jenny Kleeman, a third year SPS student who earlier this year participated
in a peaceful demonstration against the visit of the Chinese Prime Minister
to Cambridge, responded that "no matter how prestigious the politician, a
dismal human rights record cannot be
ignored and the only way to make this heard is through direct action."