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Student Activism: Defending Free Speech and Expression

1.0 Introduction

From the Tiananmen square protest of 1989 to the Civil rights movement in the US, student activism is a common phenomenon across the globe, led by people of different backgrounds advocating for different causes. Student activism often refers to the demands  and actions of students to encourage, demand, direct, or take part in social, political, economic change. Student activism comes in many forms which might include sit-ins, protest strikes, protest, boycotts, and advocacy campaigns. Student activists often work to address issues such as human rights, social justice, environmental protection, and educational reform. They play a vital role in shaping society, challenging authority, and advocating for the interests of their peers and communities. 

Student activism or protest, like any conventional protest, can vary widely in terms of the leading motivation of such a movement. There is almost never a definite answer on whether a student protest is done for the right or wrong reasons as Students from both sides of the political spectrum participate regularly in student protest. Student protest are also different in the sense that not all are carried out peacefully.While most of them are carried out peacefully in forms of marches and sit-ins,there have been examples of bloodshed which can be seen during the student led Umbrella movement in Hong Kong where clashes between student protesters and the police occurred regularly.


The importance of student activism should not be overlooked either as they have been historically the driving force of change behind many political and social changes like the civil rights movement. They also encourage students to be more engaged in civic life,creating a sense of belonging and community within those fighting for the same cause. And most importantly, successful student activism is capable of inspiring and motivating future generations in their quest to fight against social, political or any injustice.

1.1 Examples of student activism worldwide

The Republic of China (Taiwan) – The Sunflower Movement

The Republic of China (ROC), or more commonly known as Taiwan, has had a remarkable history of student activism. Since the retreat of the Kuomintang (KMT) government to the island of Taiwan as a result of the Chinese civil war, it has gone through an extremely long period of martial law from 1949 up until 1987 which lasted 38 years, where free speech was controlled heavily. After the then president, Chiang Ching-kuo, lifted the martial law imposed on Taiwan, the island went through a period of democratisation and saw its first multi-party democratic presidential election in 1996. [1] Four years later,the DPP ended the KMT’s 55 year rule on the island with the election of  President Chen Shui-bian.

Throughout this period, student activism has been growing in all corners of the island. The one student activism movement which sent tidal waves across the region would be the Sunflower movement. In 2013, the Taiwanese government at the time led by then president Ma Ying-jeou of the KMT has signed a treaty with mainland china known as the Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement which was aimed to liberalise trade between the two economies in service industries such as banking, healthcare, tourism, film, telecommunications, and publishing. [2] Even Though the treaty was signed, it was still pending ratification from the legislative Yuan, which is equivalent to the parliament of Malaysia.

This treaty attracted widespread opposition from the masses due to worries of heightening Chinese influence over Taiwan and bringing Taiwan one step closer to unification, which was against the will of the majority of the Taiwanese population. [3] Beginning Mid-March, hundreds of student protestors physically occupied the legislative Yuan for roughly three weeks to show their opposition towards the treaty. On the 24th, a group of protestors snuck into the executive Yuan, the highest executive building to occupy the chamber but was dispersed by the police. When communications broke down between the protestors and the president’s office, a mass protest erupted in front of the presidential palace. The protest only came to a halt when then president of the legislative yuan, Wang Jin-pyng, came out and promised to pass regulations which would increase scrutiny on the terms of the treaty and would increase public participation in the process. The protest ended with student protestors leaving the Legislative chamber after occupying it for a total of 585 hours.

Hong Kong-The Umbrella Movement 

While this student led movement in Taiwan was not as well-known worldwide, its impact resonated across the region, being one of inspirations for the umbrella movement in Hong Kong, which was a university student and younger generation-led movement which sparked over the Chinese Government’s attempt to alter election laws in Hong Kong and would only allow pre-approved candidates to run for election. [4] The Pro-Democracy camp was worried that this new system would act as a safety valve to screen out candidates regarded unfavourably by Beijing. [5] The protest was filled with scenes of student protestors protecting themselves with umbrellas from the barrages of tear gas employed by the police to disperse the crowds.While the umbrella movement ended without any political concessions from the government. It certainly had a lasting impact, as this protest laid the groundwork for a much larger and more violent protest just five years later, in 2019.


          Malaysia’s neighbour to the north saw waves of protest led by University Students calling for democratic reforms four years ago.The movement initially started off from university campuses due to the dissatisfaction of a court’s decision to dissolve a prominent opposition party, but was halted by the emergence of the pandemic. [6] But when the covid restrictions were lifted in July, these protests gained tractioned, garnering more and more attention.

While demonstrations in Thailand are not a rare phenomenon, what makes this protest different is the call to make its royal family more transparent and accountable.In addition, these protestors had a list of demands, which included the prime minister’s resignation, dissolution of parliament and constitutional reforms. [7] Huge crowds gathered around the democracy monument voicing out their demands. However, the government was not sitting idle.Major protest died down in 2022, mainly due to the climate of fear and persecution from the Thai government, [8] followed by detention of multiple student leaders involved in these protests.

United States-Civil Rights Movement

The US has had a long history of student activism, from the civil rights movement to the Vietnam war, students have been heavily involved throughout the decades, protesting or advocating for different causes.

While the civil rights movement was largely tied to the image of Martin Luther King Jr’s famous “I have a dream” speech and Rosa Parks resistance to bus segregation, it is essential for us to remember the inspiring efforts made by thousands of young students who took part in this nonviolent revolution. [9]

Back in 1896, the US supreme court in the case of Plessy v Ferguson [10] ruled that racial segregation laws did not violate the U.S. Constitution as long as the facilities for each race were equal in quality, which was widely known as the separate but equal doctrine, which was in use throughout America. In 1946, the Californian case of Mendez v Westminster [11] The United States court of appeal of the ninth circuit ruled that forced segregation of Mexican-American students was unconstitutional. A few years later in the case of Brown v Board of Education, [12] a panel of nine justices led by the Chief Justice Earl Warren, unanimously overruled Plessy. [13] In the judgement, the court concluded that “in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal' has no place. Separate facilities are inherently unequal”. This case effectively ended the separate but equal doctrine which was in use for decades. But, this case did not effectively end racial segregation as some southern states were still actively enforcing segregation.

Understanding the historical context of the time, which is crucial for the understanding of the civil rights movement, we will now look at the contribution of students towards the path of racial integration.

In Greensboro North Carolina, a group of students sat in a whites only lunch counter and refused to leave, after being denied service, the police were called but couldn't do anything as there was no violence. [14] Furthermore, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) was founded in 1960 and consisted mostly of black college students where they practised peaceful protest and participated in many civil rights events, [15] one of which was known as “freedom rides” where students from different races ride in buses in the southern states to challenge the segregation laws still employed in those states. These two are only a few of the examples of how student activists participated during the civil rights era, of which caused major societal impacts across America.

2.0 Student activism and its relation to freedom of speech, expression and association

Student activism frequently intersects with the fundamental principles of freedom of speech, expression, and association, which are enshrined in Article 10 of various human rights declarations and constitutions. Specifically, Article 10(1) of the Federal Constitution typically guarantees the right to freedom of expression, affirming individuals' entitlement to impart and receive information without undue interference from public authorities. [16] This provision is crucial for promoting open discussion and the exchange of different ideas, which are vital for a healthy democracy. Individuals, including students, are thus empowered to voice their opinions, advocate for causes they believe in, and engage in constructive debates that contribute to social progress and collective understanding. Meanwhile, Article 10(2) of the Federal Constitution typically acknowledges that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute. It usually permits restrictions on this freedom if they are deemed necessary and proportionate in a democratic society to safeguard essential interests such as national security, public order, or the protection of the rights of others. [17] These limitations, however, must meet stringent criteria to prevent abuse and ensure that the essence of freedom of expression remains intact. Such criteria often include considerations of legality, legitimacy, and necessity, ensuring that any restrictions imposed are reasonable and justified in a democratic society governed by the rule of law.

On the other hand, when applied to student activism, the implications of Article 10 on the freedom of speech, expression, and association are profound. It provides students with the legal foundation to engage in activism, express dissenting opinions, and form associations that reflect their beliefs and values. However, educational institutions and authorities may impose reasonable restrictions on these rights to maintain order, protect the rights of others, and uphold the educational mission of the institution. This delicate balance between the rights of students and the responsibilities of educational institutions often gives rise to debates and challenges as students navigate the boundaries of acceptable expression and activism within academic settings. Nonetheless, Article 10 serves as a critical framework for safeguarding the rights of students to express themselves, associate with like-minded individuals, and actively participate in shaping their communities and societies. Societies may foster conditions that support civic involvement, critical thinking, and the development of varied perspectives by maintaining these fundamental rights, which will ultimately strengthen the foundations of democracy and promote social justice and equality.

3.0 The University and University College Act 1971 (‘AUKU’) and The Stifling and Liberalisation of Student Freedom of Speech and Expression

The effects of the University and University College Act 1971 (‘AUKU’)

After the notorious 13 May 1969 racial riot incident in Kuala Lumpur, a national state of emergency was declared and Parliament was suspended. Hence, universities were put under the jurisdiction of the Emergency (Essential Powers) Ordinance No 74. This Emergency Ordinance then became the basis of the University and University College Act 1971 (‘AUKU’), which was enacted in 1971. The major rationale for the enactment of AUKU was to provide a legal instrument for the establishment of universities in Malaysia and to officiate the relationship between the State and universities. [18] In tabling the Act, the then Minister of Education, Hussein Onn, declared that ‘universities anywhere in the world do not exist in a vacuum. Our universities, in particular, certainly do not. While the Government is in agreement with the concept of academic freedom, it is necessary however to always remember that like other freedoms it is not absolute. It is subject to qualifications imposed by national, financial and other practical considerations. [19] In order to maintain its academic standards and thus ensure its repute in the international academic world a university will require vast amounts of public funds and in that process it will have to bear constantly in mind the national aspirations and needs as interpreted by the Government. [20]

While the University of Malaya has the University of Malaya Act 1961 as the legal basis for its existence, the Constitutions for the University of Penang and the National University that were drafted and circulated in 1971 were not tabled in Parliament. Instead, the two constitutions were absorbed as the Schedule within AUKU to form the template for a university constitution. [21] According to the then Minister of Education, Hussein Onn, he further explained that AUKU provided the overarching legal instrument for establishing, maintaining and administering universities and university colleges, removing the requirement for a new act for each university or university college as well as a separate Incorporation Order by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong for each institution. [22] Principally, the provision of a template constitution such as the Schedule would also ensure similarity in the constitution of all universities. Following the enactment of AUKU on 29 April 1971, the Act was amended several months later to incorporate minor additions such as increasing the composition of the University Senate to include deans and requiring the audited accounts of universities to be tabled in both Dewan of Parliament instead of solely in the Dewan Rakyat. The amended AUKU came into force on 24 September 1971.

In 1975, AUKU marked the beginning of State intervention in universities, whereby the amendment to the Act gave the State full control over universities. [23] The notable changes that were enacted in this amendment were that, first and foremost, Sections 15 and 16 of the University and University College Act 1971 [24] extended to allow the expulsion and suspension of individual students, secondly, the new provisions of Sections 16A and 16C of the University and University College Act 1971 [25] included disciplinary action and imposed punishment on academics, staff and employees, thirdly, the selection of student representatives through secret ballot, fourthly, the power to appoint the Vice Chancellor was taken away from the University Council and handed to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong acting on the advice of the Minister, fifthly, the Minister was tasked to appoint Deputy Vice Chancellors, sixthly, the Vice Chancellor was tasked to appoint Deans, Deputy Deans and Heads of Institutes or Schools, replacing democratic elections among academics and sixthly, the University Council was restructured to comprise five high-ranking Government officials and other representatives appointed by the Minister. No representation from the Guild of Graduates or the Senate. The Minister was also tasked to appoint the Chairman of the University Council instead of him being elected in an internal election within the Council. [26]

The 1975 Amendment was the most significant change to AUKU in terms of tightening control over universities by the State. Not only did the control of students become more elaborate, this control was also extended to academics. In addition, the self-governing capabilities of universities were taken away and transferred to the State. The Minister assumed a powerful position with the ability to unilaterally determine the important leadership appointments of a university. Since the enactment of AUKU in 1971 student activism had not been curbed but instead had intensified significantly. For contextual purposes, the year 1967 was argued to be the distinguishing year following the Teluk Gong incident, when student activism shifted from nationalistic concerns to local problems of rural poverty, landlessness and land hunger. [27] The Teluk Gong incident was a dispute over land between the landless villagers of Teluk Gong and the Government. Mass protests by university students continued and intensified after AUKU with the Tasek Utara and Baling incidents. [28] Specifically in terms of the Baling incident, two student-led demonstrations were held involving more than 30,000 people in Baling and 5,000 in Kuala Lumpur on 1 and 3 December 1974 respectively, and for the first time police went onto the three university campuses and arrested 1,128 students, and a handful of academics.

Hence, student activism played a huge part in motivating the 1975 Amendment and the then Minister of Education, Mahathir Mohamed, stated the following in Parliament while tabling the amendment, whereby “Nowhere in the country have there been such goings-on as found in the universities. Students take over the campus and expel university authorities. Massive quantities of libellous documents and papers are produced in the universities and disseminated throughout the country. Day in and day out public money is wasted as students demonstrate and make speeches while lecture halls are deserted. Plans are made to disrupt life in the campuses and outside them and are carried out persistently with impunity. [29] Such “disruptive” student activism was linked to Communism as the main enemy of the State and Islam at that time by the then Minister of Education in his parliamentary debates. [30] Student activism was equated to an act of sabotage and treachery against the nation and therefore the Government felt it had a duty to protect society’s and the universities’ interests by amending AUKU.

The Minister of Education claimed that pockets of students were disrupting education through protests, instigating other students to become involved in their speeches, and indoctrinating new students through university orientation programmes to instil a need to fight for perceived injustices in society. More controversially, these disruptions to education were claimed to be a form of sabotage of the New Economic Policy (NEP). The NEP was the socio-economic policy introduced after the racial riots to address the imbalance between ethnic groups. The Minister argued that the most serious impact of these disruptions was on Bumiputera students, who were seen as the weakest academically, hindering them from making full use of the opportunity to improve their lives through university education. In retrospect, while the student activism situation may justify the amendments tightening the control of students, nevertheless a large proportion of the 1975 Amendments was aimed at dismantling the self-governance and independence of universities. [31]

A Milestone in Study Activism: The 2024 Amendment to the University and University College Act 1971

Several years later, on 18 March 2024, the Dewan Negara passed the Universities and University Colleges (Amendment) Bill 2023, [32] which aimed to enhance governance, activity management and student discipline within higher education institutions. Among the topics frequently brought up and discussed by members of the Senate in respect of the student disciplinary committees, financial management by student organisations and the duration of the Student Representative Council elections. The current Minister of Higher Education, Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir, when winding-up the debate emphasised the government's duty to fulfil the aspirations of undergraduates and students seeking change in the management of student organisations within the current context. He also further acknowledged that these amendments were not made unilaterally as they were not only proposed by the government without involving other parties, especially the students. Therefore, the government remained committed to elevating the dignity of the students. Datuk Seri Dr Zambry Abd Kadir also noted that the amendments to the Financial Management Regulations in the bill aim to offer guidance to the student and student bodies for effective financial management, stating that these regulations were not restrictive, but they aimed to educate students on proper financial management for Student Representative Council and associations, ensuring transparency and accuracy. He added the council and student bodies are allowed to open accounts with any licensed financial institutions approved by Bank Negara and their financial management would undergo audits by certified individuals or firms. [33]

The Penang Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) Student Representative Council (MPP) president, Muhammad Nazmi Hakimi Mohd Eirman said, in line with the agenda to empower Higher Education Ministry students, that the effect of the University and University College Act amendment will further strengthen student leadership through efficient financial management by student organisations. In addition, the coordination of the MPP election term was more organised according to the academic year to improve the student democratic process and the MPP membership itself. He further added that the tenure of MPP membership will remain guaranteed according to the academic year, which was in line with the amendment to the election based on the academic year as well as the governance practices of the Student Disciplinary Committee to be more systematic and orderly. [34]

In relation to the amendments of the University and University College Act 1971, the bill sought to amend, inter alia, Section 15A of the University and University College Act 1971, [35] to enable student representative councils and bodies to collect funds and receive contributions within existing regulations. Individual students, however, remained restricted from fundraising unless acting on behalf of these councils. Furthermore, the amendment to Section 16B of the University and University College Act 1971 [36] intended to transfer disciplinary authority from vice-chancellors to student disciplinary committees, aligning with current practices in public universities. Moreover, the amendment to Section 48(4) of the University and University College Act 1971 [37] sought to extend the term of office for student council members from one year to one academic year, with provisions for extension during extraordinary circumstances like the Covid-19 pandemic. Finally, the proposed change to Section 48(11) of the University and University College Act 1971 [38] aimed to allow student representative councils to establish and manage funds, including opening accounts with legitimate financial institutions, enhancing student empowerment while maintaining financial procedures set by universities.

A Retrospective Look at the Sedition Act 1948 and the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998

Under the Sedition Act 1948, Section 4(1) [39] provides that any person who does or attempts to do, or makes any preparation to do, or conspires with any person to do, any act which has or which would, if done, have a seditious tendency, [40] or utters any seditious words, [41] or prints, publishes, sells, offers for sale, distributes or reproduces any seditious publication, [42] or imports any seditious publication, [43] shall be guilty of an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable for a first offence to a fine not exceeding five thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three years or to both, and, for a subsequent offence, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, and any seditious publication found in the possession of the person or used in evidence at his trial shall be forfeited and may be destroyed or otherwise disposed of as the court directs.

For a contextual purpose, Section 3(1) of the Sedition Act 1948 [44] defines a sedition tendency as to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against any Ruler or against any Government, [45] or to excite the subjects of any Ruler or the inhabitants of any territory governed by any Government to attempt to procure in the territory of the Ruler or governed by the Government, the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any matter as by law established, [46] or to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Malaysia or in any State, [47] or to raise discontent or disaffection amongst the subjects of the Yang di-Pertuan Agong or of the Ruler of any State or amongst the inhabitants of Malaysia or of any State, [48] or to promote feelings of ill will and hostility between different races or classes of the population of Malaysia, [49] or to question any matter, right, status, position, privilege, sovereignty or prerogative established or protected by the provisions of Part III of the Federal Constitution or Articles 152, 153 or 181 of the Federal Constitution. [50]

On the other hand, pursuant to the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, Section 233(1)(a) [51]  stipulates that a person who, by means of any network facilities or network service or applications service knowingly makes, creates or solicits, and initiates the transmission of, any comment, request, suggestion or other communication which is obscene, indecent, false, menacing or offensive in character with intent to annoy, abuse, threaten or harass another person commits an offence. Additionally, in accordance with Section 233(3) of the Communications and Multimedia Act 1998, [52] it prescribes that a person who commits an offence under this section shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding fifty thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year or to both and shall also be liable to a further fine of one thousand ringgit for every day during which the offence is continued after conviction.



Since the first establishment of AUKU in 1971, it has undergone seven amendments. However, the main question here is whether these amendments are truly enough or does it need to be abolished as a whole? Though there are demands to repeal AUKU and grant total autonomy to university students, the current Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kadir believes that amending AUKU instead of abolishing it is more realistic. His reason is that abolishing AUKU would entail the creation of a new university constitution covering all public universities and this is time-consuming and will cause disruptions in higher education institutions. [53] Not only that, the student council executive councillor of University Sultan Zainal Abidin (UniSZA) holds a similar view, believing that absolute abolition would not ensure students' advantage. [54]

Student activism is essential in the process of building a nation. It influences, intervenes, and actively contributes to numerous developments in Malaysia, whether in politics, social welfare, or national policy. This aligns with the UNDI18 movement which lets the youth participate in democracy in Malaysia. Hence, there is a grave need to reawaken student activism back in Malaysia after numerous attempts at suppression and prohibition of youth activism. 

4.1 Recommendations for government in reawakening student activism

4.1.1 Revision of AUKU and standardise all legislation on all forms of higher education institutions

Revising AUKU and standardising all types of law such as AUKU, Private High Education Act 1996 and others into one can widen student participation in activism or national decision-making process with greater transparency. Regulations governing student movements, political engagement, and freedom of speech should align with international human rights law. Students' rights and well-being should be protected, while simultaneously increasing their involvement in national decision-making processes. [55] The government should consider repealing Sections 4(1)(a) and 4(1)(d) of the Peaceful Assembly Act, which prohibits non-citizens and those under the age of 21 from participating in peaceful assemblies. [56] This is especially important given Malaysia's reduced voting age to 18 and the large number of foreign students in higher education institutions. Repealing it allows international students to participate in activism or movements that benefit both them and the public.

4.1.2 View student body and associations as valuable stakeholders in the decision-making process

Students needed to be involved in administrative decisions. These decisions will affect an environment in which students can thrive, leading to a more open interchange of ideas and potentially impacting the country's progress. [57] For instance, student unions in universities serve a vital function in empowering university students to be active stakeholders in the higher education system. This also echoes the suggestion made by a law student in Universiti Utara Malaysia, Syahril Ahmad where student representatives, especially in the formation of committees at the ministry and university level should be involved in the process of amending the Act. [58]

4.2 Recommendations for universities in reawakening student activism

4.2.1 Amend internal regulations that restrict student’s freedom of speech, assembly and association 

Amending the university’s internal regulations empowers students to participate more actively in decision-making processes at both the institutional and national levels. These rights are provided in Article 10 of the Federal Constitution itself and are fundamental to a democratic society as it allows citizens to engage in issues that affect them. [59] If Malaysia aims to become a contemporary democratic nation that values diversity and freedom of expression among its population, students should have the right to engage with institutions and the government on national problems, as long as they are nonviolent. [60]

4.2.1 Provide a safe and supportive environment that values different perspectives and encourages student participation in politics both on and off campus.

Malaysia values diversity and multiculturalism, with people of many ethnicities and backgrounds working together to create solutions that benefit all Malaysians, not just certain groups. Encouraging debate and discussion on university grounds promotes a vibrant and comfortable environment by allowing for many perspectives. In addition, student involvement in politics will help youngsters become well-informed citizens capable of critical thinking. This helps in establishing the confidence of the public in letting the young people voice their opinions and giving them a chance to participate in democracy. Not only that, once they have graduated, they will bring unique and innovative ideas to the Malaysian workforce, benefiting both the economy and politics. [61]

4.3 Recommendations for students in reawakening student activism

4.3.1 Proclaim and actively act upon their rights to freedom of speech, expression, peaceful assembly, participation and association

First of all, students need to know, understand and acknowledge these rights to actively act upon them. When they act upon these rights, students will bring new and inventive ideas to the Malaysian workforce, thus boosting both the economy and politics. Students have a crucial role in defining their personal and national identities as Malaysian citizens during their university years. Higher education institutions should encourage students to participate in political activities, preparing them to become informed citizens and contribute to nation-building efforts. [62]

4.3.2 Exert pressure on government bodies and higher education institutions through various platforms. 

Student unions such as the University Malaya Student Union (UMSU) can lead in exerting pressure on government bodies to enhance the rights of the students to exercise their rights in Article 10. [63] Tabling roundtable discussions and proposals can be made to make their demands heard by the government and higher education institutions. Apart from that, campaigns can be made to bridge the gap between students and governments, like the Undi18 campaign, have historically proven to be extremely effective. Students and young people have unique viewpoints that might benefit government leaders. The power to exert pressure on the government improves accountability and communication between the two bodies, leading to more effective legislation. [64]


In conclusion, student activism represents a powerful and enduring force for social, political, and economic change across the globe. From the Tiananmen Square protest of 1989 to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, students have continually demonstrated their ability to influence and shape societal developments. The diversity in forms of activism, including sit-ins, protests, boycotts, and advocacy campaigns, underscores the multifaceted nature of student engagement in addressing issues such as human rights, social justice, environmental protection, and educational reform.

The importance of student activism cannot be overstated. Historically, students have been at the forefront of significant movements, driving change and challenging existing power structures. Their activism fosters civic engagement, creates a sense of community, and inspires future generations to continue the fight for justice and equality. However, student activism is not without its complexities and challenges. Movements can vary widely in their motivations and methods, sometimes leading to peaceful protests and other times resulting in violent clashes, as seen in the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong.

Legal frameworks, such as the right to freedom of speech, expression, and association, play a crucial role in enabling student activism. These rights, enshrined in various human rights declarations and constitutions, provide the foundation for students to voice their opinions and advocate for change. However, these freedoms are not absolute and may be subject to limitations to maintain public order and protect the rights of others, presenting a delicate balance between individual rights and societal interests.

Overall, student activism remains a vital and dynamic element of global societal change. As students continue to navigate the legal and political frameworks that shape their activism, their contributions will undoubtedly continue to play a critical role in advancing social progress and upholding democratic values.


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[2] Weigel, M., & Yu,Y. H. (27 March 2014). 324:Dispatch from Taipei. Retrieved from <> Site accessed on 15 May 2024.

[3] Liao, Y. J. (2023, December 22). Taiwan’s Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement: Accept or Forgo?.Center for Strategic and International Studies.Retrieved from <> Site accessed on 15 May 2024.

[4]  Hayasi, N.(2022, May 4). When it Rains it Pours: The Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong. The Non Violence Project. Retrieved from <> Site accessed on 17 May 2024.

[5] Yuen,S. An uncertain future for "One Country Two Systems".Hong Kong After the Umbrella Movement.China Perspectives.(2015). 49-53.Doi: 10.4000/china perspectives.6656

[6] Ratcliffe,R. (2020, September 22). Thailand protests: everything you need to know. The Guardian.Retrieved from <> Site accessed on 17 May 2024.

[7] Culbertson, A., & Thompson,R.(2020, November 17). Thailand protests:why are Thai people protesting and what is the significance?. Sky News. Retrieved from <> Site accessed on 17 May 2024.

[8]  Hinz,E. (2022, May 19). What happened to Thailand's protests?. Deutsche Welle. Retrieved from <> Site accessed on 17 May 2024.

[9] Gilliham,T. (2022, February 14). How students impacted the US Civil Rights Movement. Kaplan International Pathways.Retrieved from <> Site accessed on 18 May 2024.

[10] Plessy v Ferguson.163 U.S. 537 (1896)

[11] Mendez, et al v Westminister [sic] School District of Orange al, 64 F.Supp. 544 (S.D. Cal. 1946), aff'd, 161 F.2d 774 (9th Cir. 1947)

[12] Brown v Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954)

[13] Plessy v Ferguson.163 U.S. 537 (1896)

[14] Gilliham,T.(2022, February 14). How students impacted the US Civil Rights Movement. Kaplan International Pathways.Retrieved from <> Site accessed on 18 May 2024.

[15] Gilliham,T.(2022, February 14). How students impacted the US Civil Rights Movement. Kaplan International Pathways.Retrieved from <> Site accessed on 18 May 2024.

[16] Federal Constitution (Malaysia) art 10(1).

[17] Federal Constitution (Malaysia) art 10(2).

[18] Wan, C. D. (2019). The Universities and University Colleges Act in Malaysia: History, Contexts and Development. Kajian Malaysia, 37(2), 1-20. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 14 May 2024.

[19] Malaysia, Parliamentary Debates, Representative, Third Parliament, First Session, 17 Mar 1971, pp 10 (Hussein Onn).

[20] See footnote 21 above.

[21] See footnote 21 above.

[22] See footnote 21 above.

[23] Universities and University Colleges (Amendment) Act 1975 (Act 295) (Malaysia).

[24] Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (Act 30) (Malaysia) ss 15 and 16.

[25] Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (Act 30) (Malaysia) ss 16A and 16C.

[26] See footnote 21 above.

[27] Hassan Karim. (1984). The student movement in Malaysia. (1967–1974 eds.). Petaling Jaya, Malaysia: INSAN, 1-26.

[28] See footnote 30 above.

[29] Malaysia, Parliamentary Debates, Representative, Fourth Parliament, First Session, 8 Apr 1975, pp 40 (Mahathir Mohamed).

[30] See footnote 32 above.

[31] See footnote 21 above.

[32] Universities and University Colleges (Amendment) Bill 2023 (Act PN(U2)3336).

[33] Tham, L. (2024, Apr 2). Dewan Negara passes University Colleges Amendment Bill. The Star. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 15 May 2024.

[34] Tham, L. (2024, Mar 18). Dewan Rakyat passes Auku amendment bill. Free Malaysia Today. Retrieved from <>. Site accessed on 15 May 2024.

[35] Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (Act 30) (Malaysia) s 15A.

[36] Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (Act 30) (Malaysia) s 16B.

[37] Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (Act 30) (Malaysia) 48(4). 

[38] Universities and University Colleges Act 1971 (Act 30) (Malaysia) 48(11).

[39] Sedition Act 1948 (Act 15) (Malaysia) s 4(1). 

[40] Sedition Act 1948 (Act 15) (Malaysia) s 4(1)(a).

[41] Sedition Act 1948 (Act 15) (Malaysia) s 4(1)(b).

[42] Sedition Act 1948 (Act 15) (Malaysia) s 4(1)(c).

[43] Sedition Act 1948 (Act 15) (Malaysia) s 4(1)(d).

[44] Sedition Act 1948 (Act 15) (Malaysia) s 3(1).

[45] Sedition Act 1948 (Act 15) (Malaysia) s 3(1)(a).

[46] Sedition Act 1948 (Act 15) (Malaysia) s 3(1)(b). 

[47] Sedition Act 1948 (Act 15) (Malaysia) s 3(1)(c).

[48] Sedition Act 1948 (Act 15) (Malaysia) s 3(1)(d).

[49] Sedition Act 1948 (Act 15) (Malaysia) s 3(1)(e).

[50] Sedition Act 1948 (Act 15) (Malaysia) s 3(1)(f).

[51] Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (Act 588) (Malaysia) s 233(1)(a).

[52] Communications and Multimedia Act 1998 (Act 588) (Malaysia) s 233(3). 

[53] Zambry. (2024, May 18). More realistic to amend than abolish AUKU. The Sun. Retrieved from <> Site accessed on 15 May 2024


[55] Siti Asdiah Masran, Siti Munawirah Mustaffa, Teoh J., Fikri Faisal, (2020) A History of Student Activism in Malaysia, Chapter 5: Findings, Summary and Recommendations, Imagine Malaysia.

[56] Peaceful Assembly Act (Malaysia) s.4(1)(a)&(d)

[57] See footnote 3 above.

[58] See footnote 2 above (bernama)

[59] Federal Constitution (Malaysia) Art 10(1)

[60] See footnote 3 above.

[61] See footnote 3 above.

[62] See footnote 3 above.

[63] See footnote 7 above.

[64] See footnote 3 above.

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