The Malaysian academic movement Gerak expresses its deepest condolences on the passing of Sulaiman Abdullah, one of Malaysia’s legendary lawyers and a former president of the Malaysian Bar Council.
Sulaiman was Gerak’s legal adviser for many years, ever since Gerak was established in 1993. Even before that, we sought his advice when preparing Gerak’s draft constitution.
Our friendship actually began in 1985 when he agreed to become a defence attorney for the Academic and Administrative Staff Association of Universiti Sains Malaysia (PKAPUSM) on a pro bono basis.
At that time, USM administrators had taken disciplinary action against the association’s president and vice-president for voicing the views of concerned academics.
However, we felt that the USM administrators had contravened the provisions of the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) and challenged this action at the Penang High Court under a writ of certiorari, arguing that the USM disciplinary committee had acted arbitrarily and without following proper procedures.
The trial at the Penang High Court took about two years and Sulaiman constantly travelled back and forth to Penang from Kuala Lumpur every time trial time approached.
At that time, he was assisted by a chambering trainee, Sivarasa Rasiah, who later also became a famous lawyer himself and, subsequently, MP.
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The “USM crisis” attracted formidable lawyers for both sides – lawyers who had begun to carve legendary reputations for themselves.
USM had the late Raja Aziz Addruse, a Bar Council chair and later, lead counsel for then Lord President Salleh Abas, who had been dismissed in 1988, leading to the Malaysian judicial crisis.
We in PKAPUSM had Sulaiman on our side.
Incidentally, both later became the lead counsels for Anwar Ibrahim’s team: Raja Aziz in the first sodomy trial and Sulaiman in the second sodomy trial.
Due to the dedication, hard work and invaluable service provided by Sulaiman and his team, our side eventually won the case in 1988.
The heavy and unjust sentence USM had imposed on the PKAPUSM president and vice-president of more than two years was reversed by the High Court, with USM having to pay compensation.
In 1989 PKAPUSM organised the first national academics conference at the USM campus. Sulaiman was one of the speakers at the conference, where he presented a paper titled “Understanding democracy in the university”.
The conference also passed a resolution to establish a national academics association. PKAPUSM was made the secretariat and led the pro tem committee before it was registered with the Registrar of Societies.
In this initial setup period, Sulaiman again provided much-needed legal advice and constantly motivated the pro tem committee. He also agreed to become an adviser to the new academic association.
Finally, in 1993 when Pertubuhan Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (Gerak) was registered as an association with the Registrar of Societies, Sulaiman became Gerak’s legal adviser, a role he played for 20 years until his health deteriorated.
Gerak will forever owe a debt of gratitude to Sulaiman for being there for us all those years.
As Gerak continues our battles for academic reforms, we are reminded of a quote which Sulaiman often told us: “Vice-chancellors do not die; they just lose their faculties.”
Prof Wan Manan, a founder member of Gerak, wrote this on behalf of Pergerakan Tenaga Akademik Malaysia (Gerak)