After going through a four-year ordeal, the seven suspended university students – dubbed the ‘ISA 7′ – who were charged with illegal assembly finally walked free from the courtroom today.
The Kuala Lumpur magistrate’s court this morning acquitted the seven on the ground that the prosecution had failed to prove they had organised and participated in an anti-Internal Security Act (ISA) demonstration outside the National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur on June 8, 2001.
The prosecution had also failed to prove that it was an unlawful assembly, magistrate Mohd Khairi Haron said before announcing his decision to an applause from the packed courtroom.
The seven, who appeared surprised and jovial, were immediately congratulated by relatives, opposition leaders and student representatives who filled the courtroom.
When asked, the prosecution said it has to wait for further instruction to decide whether it would appeal against the decision.
Accompanied by supporters, the ‘ISA 7′ later held an impromptu press conference outside the court to express their gratitude to regional and local groups which had supported them throughout the four years.
They also welcomed the decision and hoped that they could resume their studies soon.
The seven are Rafzan Ramli, Helman Sanuddin, Wan Sanusi Wan Mohd Noor, Khairul Amal Mahmud, Nik Noorhafizi Nik Ibrahim, Ahmad Kamal Abdul Hamid and Zulkefle Idris.
They were charged under Section 27 of the Police Act on July 19, 2001. All of them pleaded not guilty to the charge – which provides for a maximum two-year jail sentence, a fine of up to RM10,000 or both.
They had since been banned from attending classes by the four varsities where they were studying. Previously, they had appealed to the Education Ministry but the then Education Minister Musa Mohamed said they could only be reinstated if they apologised. They did not do so.
The ‘ISA 7′ hearing began in July 2003 after it was postponed on eight previous occasions.
Also present in court today were PKR leaders Mohd Ezam Mohd Nor and Tian Chua, malaysiakini columnist cum film-maker Hishamuddin Rais – all of whom were held under ISA whose freedom was demanded by the students – and human rights group Suaram coordinator Chang Lih Kang.
What they say
Here are the comments from the ‘ISA 7′ and their supporters following the court decision today:
“We were surprised as we did not expect all of us to be freed. Now that we have been punished for four years long before we were found guilty, this will strengthen the argument to abolish the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA). I urge the Higher Education Ministry to reinstate us in our respective varsities without conditions.” – Helman Sanuddin, one of the seven accused.
“We thank the student activists for their support throughout the trial. Their solidarity with us has given us the strength and resolve to face the charges. I wish to urge Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to work towards repealing the UUCA which violates academic freedom and student rights.” – Rafzan Ramli, one of the seven accused.
“I am happy with the decision but this does not mean that the struggle to abolish the UUCA is over. The court decision proves that UUCA is a draconian act that resulted in the seven having to go through a four-year ordeal.” – Shazeera Ahmad Zawawi (photo), ex-student activist and Rafzan’s fiancee.
“This is not a genuine victory but a black mark as the students had to go through the tedious court processes to fight for the restoration of their rights.” – Amer Hamzah Arshad, defence counsel.
“They were so many defects from their arrests until prosecution. The government must take steps to remedy the situation and the students’ rights to study must be immediately restored.” – Mohd Ezam Mohd Nor, PKR Youth chief.