Malaysian Chinese columnist under investigation for branding Universiti Teknologi Mara as ‘Apartheid Academy’

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25th May 2024 – (Kuala Lumpur) Malaysiakini columnist Andrew Sia finds himself in the eye of a storm, having dared to brand Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) as an “apartheid academy”. This bold metaphor has sparked outrage and a flurry of police reports—14, to be precise—prompting an investigation over allegations of intentional insult and provocation under Malaysia’s Penal Code.

What has incensed many is Sia’s critique of a protest by UiTM’s student council. The students had donned black as a symbol of defiance against proposals to open the doors of their cardiothoracic surgery postgraduate programme to non-Bumiputera students. This act of protest was not just a statement of solidarity with the institution’s Bumiputera-first policy but a stern reminder of the educational divides that persist.

Inspector-General of Police Razarudin Husain has been quite busy, gathering details from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission to pin down the specifics of Sia’s incendiary commentary. The police’s diligent response demonstrates the sensitivity surrounding discussions of race-based policies in Malaysian education.

Yesterday, the rhetoric escalated as Umno Youth chief Dr. Akmal Saleh colourfully depicted UiTM as a “legacy of hateful and cruel Malay racism”. This accusation aimed at Sia’s piece seems almost to echo the very division the column sought to critique, demanding a takedown of the article and an apology from Sia.

Interestingly, this row erupts against the backdrop of a recent plea from the Malaysian Medical Association, which highlighted a pressing shortage of specialists and suggested that UiTM temporarily open its programme to non-Bumiputeras. The student council’s response—to wear black in protest—aptly symbolises the dark comedy playing out over who gets to heal the nation.

As this educational saga unfolds, champions of the status quo stand firm, with Umno’s women chief, Datuk Seri Noraini Ahmad, reassuring that Malaysia has plenty of tertiary institutions for everyone—well, almost everyone. Meanwhile, Umno Veterans Club secretary-general Datuk Mustapha Yaakub branded the article “stupid”, and opined that Sia was “ignorant”, adding yet another layer of irony to the debate.