Four days before a rally to demand the resignation of Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak, Monash University Malaysia emailed students threatening to take disciplinary action if they were caught attending. The email read:

“You are advised not to participate in any illegal gathering/related activity that contravenes Malaysian laws. Any student found to be participating in such gathering/activity or who is arrested by the authorities for doing so may be subjected to disciplinary proceedings.”

Students at Curtin University, Malaysia, received similar warnings not to attend “illegal gatherings”.

This is a direct attack on students’ right to protest. It is unprecedented for private universities in Malaysia to act on behalf of the government, disciplining students for engaging in political activity.

The email was sent during a broader crackdown by the Malaysian government in the wake of allegations that Razak embezzled up to $1 billion from a state investment fund. Critics of Razak have been jailed, and online media sites that covered the corruption scandal have been blocked.

On 18 November, the chairperson of pro-democracy group Bersih 2.0 was arrested and charged with “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy”. The group was organising the protest to demand Razak’s resignation.

Monash University has come under sustained criticism from students, as well as human rights NGOs and legal groups. It has since published two further statements. The first, issued on 16 November, stated: “The welfare of all our Monash Malaysia students is of paramount importance to us”. The second, issued the following day, apologised only for the university’s supposed lack of clarity and reiterated, “students need to be aware of the consequences of undertaking unlawful activities”.

Neither statement retracts the threat to discipline student protesters.

Monash and Curtin’s intimidation of students expressing political views represents a new authoritarianism on university campuses. The Monash Student Association (Australia) has demanded Monash retract its threat and extended solidarity and support to Malaysian student protesters.