(September 9): Despite a sedition charge hanging over his head, Associate Professor Dr Azmi Sharom vowed to continue speaking out for rule of law and democracy.
The 45-year-old Universiti Malaya law lecturer said there was nothing radical about his beliefs, and said the sedition charge has not changed his stance.
"I am not a radical. Not in the slightest," Azmi told The Malaysian Insider.
"What is so radical about wanting human rights to be respected?? What is so radical about respecting the Constitution and understanding the Constitution the way it is supposed to be understood?"
"Seriously, what is so radical about the rule of law? What is so radical about democracy? What is so radical about having a humanist approach towards life and governance and the way things are run?"
These ideals and principles, added Azmi, are "extremely basic" and have been around for decades.
"Look, I am not afraid," he said of his sedition charge.
"I have always been careful with what I say and I am not gonna change. I don't see how much more careful I can be."
Azmi, who heads Universiti Malaya's academic staff association, was charged on September 2 over an article titled "Take Perak crisis route for speedy end to Selangor impasse, Pakatan told" published in an online news portal on August 14.
He is the first academic to be hauled up by Putrajaya and charged under the colonial-era law which critics want repealed.
He joins the likes of Shah Alam MP Khalid Samad, PKR vice-president N. Surendran, Seri Delima assemblyman RSN Rayer and other politicians and activists charged with the draconian law in recent weeks.
"Yes I was shocked. I didn't really expect to be charged with sedition based on what I had said?. I don't believe I have been reckless," he said, while saying he had been "told off" by previous administrations of the university.
Azmi, who grew up in Penang, was emotional as he spoke about the support he received from colleagues, students and the public following his charge.
"On one level the response is really towards the bigger issue which is the freedom of expression and academic freedom.
"But I cannot deny the personal level (of support) to myself. At the risk of sounding egotistical, when you see people being so supportive, you cannot help but take it personally.
"It's a source of strength," he said, as his voice broke.
Dozens of academics, activists, students and lawyers turned up at the Kuala Lumpur High Court last week as a show of support for him.
A campaign titled "Solidarity4AzmiSharom” was also launched with several student bodies pledging support for the campaign, including the Universiti Malaya Student Union (PMUM), Progressive University of Malaya, Pro-Mahasiswa UM and the Universiti Malaya Islamic Undergraduates Association (PMIUM).
Yesterday, the varsity's student council called for a "hartal" on Wednesday to show solidarity with Azmi and demand repeal of the Sedition Act, while the academic staff union plans a peaceful assembly on the UM campus at 1pm on the same day.
"Hartal" is a form of civil disobedience, with workplaces, offices and shops closed as part of a strike.
"Frankly any sort of expression is a legitimate form of expression as long as there is no violence or incitement to violence and hate speech," Azmi said of the planned strike, adding that he only came to know about it after reading about it in the news.
"I don't see how any form of expression can be seen as wrong.
The law professor also revealed that he had been contacted by international organisation Scholars At Risk, a network to support and defend academic freedom.
"Part of me is a bit embarrassed by it. When you say scholars at risk, really you should be talking about guys in really oppressive countries where you're being shot or being tortured," he laughs.
"But I am touched."
Azmi, who joined UM in 1990 as a part-time tutor, paid tribute to the members of his law faculty who he said had been "really good".
Saying he was ready to face the sedition charge, Azmi believed that reason would prevail.
"So I don't see any reason to be afraid.
"Being frightened is one of the reasons why we are at the stage that we are at," he said, adding that Malaysians were not used to expressing themselves amid a culture of fear.
"For many many years, the culture of fear has become part of Malaysia.
"It's because we are used to this for so long, that we ?are at the stage where the fundamental practice of basic human rights is seen as weird and dangerous," he added.