Strategies for Student Activists

Tips from a seasoned student activist on how to not to get caught in Bolehland.

Before I proceed, I must provide a disclaimer: The duty of a student is above all to your studies and to the expectations of your family, NOT politicking. Said activism is only reserved to after your obligations to your studies are met. Prioritise your assignments, tests, exams, etc.

At the end of the term of your undergraduate studies, you will acquire a certificate that states that you qualify for the next stage of your growth into adulthood – joining the workforce. This said, for anyone to see their child expelled from a degree/diploma is every parents’ nightmare. Hence, the reason for this article is written.

This article is about “how to still be an activist and NOT get caught.” This advice is dispensed in 3 portions; (i) to advocate, (ii) to write, and (iii) while demonstrating.

Get creative - can't swim? ride a frog

Get creative - can't swim? ride a frog


1. KEEP YOUR HEAD LOW. Never organise a full fledged rally. If you do, make sure it’s a flash mob affair where no head or tail of the dragon may be recognisable. It is the practise of the Malaysian police to identify the head, target him/her, and arrest the head.

In theory, this is meant to cull the crowd and spread fear. In truth, police are dipshit scared of you. For all their fierce expressions and arsenal of weapons, sheer numbers can and will overwhelm them. Fortunately, Malaysians in general are pacifists, so we politely leave and protest in blogs when people get arrested. Woon King Chai, you readin’ this?

2. BE DISCREET. Instead, organise innocent, lepaking sessions either at mamak stalls or at the privacy of your rumah sewa/rumah bujang. Talk people into private areas when it is absolutely yours to do as you will with it.

As a rule, police cannot enter inside private homes especially when your parents own said premises, or when you’re merely having a meal. Or better still, ask your parents’ permission to usurp the living room for a bit. If you have politically allergic parents, tell ’em it’s a sleepover. It works all the time. Don’t have more than 10 people at a time or it’d be too obvious.

Remember, it’s the impact that counts, not the numbers. You talk to 10 people, those 10 people will talk to other 10 people, and on it goes exponentially. Pyramid scheme activist style.


3. PSEUDONYMS & MULTIPLE PERSONALITIES. Never use your real name for your articles. That’s literally asking for expulsion or disciplinary action from your university. Mind you, in every university, especially public universities(IPTA), there are entire dedicated departments instructed to monitor YOU.

Do not use obvious personal references that any person of your acquaintance, your family, or even your closest friends can recognise. Use names that are at odds with your natural personality, religion, background, etc.

Even the weakest link can lead to you. Use something completely different and vary the names for every other article. Pretend to have bipolar personality syndrome if you have to. I had a fondness for Christian Saints and Angels, and it has served me well.

4. COVER YOUR TRACKS. Own multiple email accounts, using the anonymity tips I just spoke of. Make sure you vary the email accounts; Yahoo, Hotmail, Rocketmail, AOL, etc. Go for the commercial ones that are freely available. Do not use university emails, company emails, etc. as they can be easily tracked down.

Use and discard. Never use the same one for more than one purpose. Limit to one pseudonym per email.


5. BLEND IN. The idea of going to demonstrations is to add numbers to a cause – not to get the cool factor, and definitely not to get your sorry arse arrested. It is better to live another day free than to be arrested. It will set a chain of events which will lead you to getting in trouble in your university. Blend in.

Wear normal clothes, leave all of your Student IDs at home, conceal your face where relevant. Make sure you have established groups to protect yourself, though normally people naturally band together while facing water cannons and tear gas bombs. The idea is to get the message across. Fame is never good, unless you have your diploma/degree securely in your hands.

6. USE DISGUISES. If you’re willing and creative, dress as opposite to your personality. I’ve had friends who use the tudung labuh and purdah. It’s very effective while hiding amongst PAS Supporters.

7. FREE HANDS. Kindly carry no cause paraphernalia or merchandise on you. Not even one badge. Just wear the correct colours. No policemen can arrest you in the interest of fashion statement, but AUKU is very strict on carrying flyers and materials as such.


8. PROTECTION. This is the trickiest, or perhaps, not so tricky depending on which university you’re at. Identify the lecturers and administrative staff who are “hostile” to student rights movements or students’ independence. Identify also to the lecturers who are friendly to your cause. The former will do their best to suppress you. The latter will protect you.

I’ve had lecturers who had given me prior warning, which allowed me time for damage control. Do not think unkindly of those lecturers who protects students, they are putting their own livelihood – their jobs at risk too. I know of one who was deported to a different branch for speaking out against certain policies.

Of course, be wary of the pretenders who pretend to be your ally but in fact report to the Dean.

Do not, where possible add lecturers or strangers on your Facebook and Twitter. I have had lecturers who actively stalk students’ Facebook pages and report to the Dean and had caused much trouble for a friend of mine.

9. PARANOIA IS GOOD. Whatever you do, be paranoid. Often, said paranoia is wisdom. Be wary. Exercise utmost caution. Above all else, keep your silence on your brethren activists. Feigning ignorance is much encouraged.

I have lived and learned with this in mind for 4 1/2 years. May it help you in your cause too.

LB: In pictures – Student movements of the world.

Paris, May 1968

Paris, May 1968

Students, holding garbage can tops as shields, faced off with the police, in Paris near the Gare de Lyon train station in May 1968. A failed political revolution but a successful social revolution – it was a moment of liberation for many, when youth coalesced, the workers listened and the semi-royal French government of Charles de Gaulle took fright.

Tiananmen Square, 1989

Tiananmen Square, 4 June 1989

The protests lead to the Massacre in Tiananmen Square – several hundred civilian protesters, mostly students were shot dead by the Chinese army during a bloody military operation to crush a democratic protest in Peking’s (Beijing).

Padang kelam Sultan Selangor Baling 1974

Baling 1974

Feeling the plight of the proletariat – students at Padang Kelab Sultan Selangor fighting “alongside” peasants and farmers in the “Rural Revolution” of Baling, Kedah.

Greece, 2006

Greece, 2006

Anger and revolt – students protesting neoliberal university reforms.

he campus election results and also to raise issue of no water on campus (water rationing for 2 weeks!) and also FRU beating up students in UKM

UKM, 2010

Mahasiswa UKM at a silent protest against university authorities interfering with campus elections and the FRU entering campus grounds and were seen beating up students during earlier protests. Students also took the opportunity to voice their dissatisfaction over a 2 week water ration.

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This young lawyer harbours hope that one day Malaysians irrespective of ethnicity and religion have equal rights under the law, as we all are before the eyes of God. She is moving with UndiMsia! ( and will always be an Anak Bangsa Malaysia. (

Posted on 28 July 2010. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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