PETALING JAYA: Academicians have come out in defence of Prof Abdul Aziz Bari, who was suspended over his comments on the Sultan of Selangor's decree regarding the Aug 3 Selangor Religious Department (Jais) raid on the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC).
They believe the suspension, by the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) against Aziz on Wednesday, would have negative implications on the reputation of local universities and could set a dangerous precedent where universities can censor academicians.
Universiti Teknologi Mara Policy Studies lecturer Prof Dr Shaharuddin Baharuddin said the suspension was against Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's message of political transformation.
Shaharuddin likened the move to censor academicians to "taking away the keris from a Malay warrior".
“We need to have some freedom of debate and speech. The action by IIUM does not coincide with the politics of transformation by the PM. Why abolish the Internal Security Act when you cannot have freedom of speech?" he said.
“Aziz Bari is one of the most prominent experts on the Malaysian constitution so he definitely knows what he is talking about. I don't think he was insulting the Sultan but he was dissatisfied with the statement made by him."
Abdul Aziz is being investigated under Article 15 (1) of IIUM's staff disciplinary rules for tarnishing the university's image.
The police are also investigating Abdul Aziz for his comments reported in a Malaysiakini article titled Aziz Bari: Tidak salah kritik Raja-raja (Aziz Bari: Not wrong to criticise the Rulers)” on Oct 12.
Shaharuddin said the university should examine Aziz's original statement to the media and not the subsequent media firestorm.
He said Abdul Aziz was a constitutional expert and his statement was within his field of expertise.
“The university should not be pressured by politicians, they are not professors,” he said.
UCSI University's Faculty of Economics and Policy Science Dr Ong Kian Ming said he had always viewed Abdul Aziz as a public intellectual who was willing to contribute, shape and influence discourse on important constitutional issues.
Ong said Abdul Aziz's comments on the Sultan's statement was one such important contribution.
“In a context of increasing political competition at the State and national levels, we should be having more, not less, academic discussion on the role of the Sultans on different matters, including as the head of Islam at the State level,” he said.
Universiti Sains Malaysia Social Sciences Deputy Dean Dr P. Sivamurugan stressed that Abdul Aziz should have been given the opportunity to defend himself before IIUM suspended him.
“The university's actions will not help but further deteriorate public perception of local varsities,” he said.
However, Universiti Utara Malaysia political science lecturer Dr Mohd Azizudin Sani begged to differ and said there were provisions in law where a person cannot insult the Sultan or Ruler.
“To be fair, there is also an issue of academic freedom but we have laws that protect the Rulers and we must respect them,” he said.