In what may be the most violent student council election ever, a student leader at the National University of Malaysia was slashed by masked assailants early Monday morning, according to multiple Malaysian news outlets.
Muhammad Syahir Rahimi Sukri, 22, the leader of a party running for the university's Students' Representative Council, was found injured on the school's campus near Kuala Lumpur early Monday morning. He was released from the hospital within a day.
According to news reports, Syahir told police that two men riding a motorcycle attacked him while he was putting up posters for his party around 5:30 a.m. local time. The men, apparently wearing full face visors, slashed him in the chest and arms with a knife and splashed red and black paint on his body.
A photo of Syahir at the hospital went viral among university students on WhatsApp and Facebook:
Syahir is president of the Gabungan Mahasiswa UKM party. His party was running in student council elections held Tuesday, although he wasn't on the ballot.
This isn't the first attack on student politicians at the university. On the day of student council elections in 2013, a molotov cocktail was thrown at the home of several students running with Syahir's party, The Star reported at the time. A note reading "withdraw or die" was found attached to the windshield of one of the students' cars.
Malaysian politics are currently roiled by a protest movement called Bersih, which is calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Najib Rezak over corruption allegations. Tens of thousands of protesters filled the streets of Kuala Lumpur, the capital, last month. A counter-rally was held today, and demonstrators clashed with police. It's not clear whether Syahir or his party was involved in the Bersih protests.
Meredith Weiss, a professor at the University of Albany who studies student activism in Malaysia, said in an email that the slashing appears to be one of the worst attacks on a student leader in the country's history.
Students typically compete in blocs mimicking the national political parties, but "while [student] elections can be quite fraught, they’re ultimately fairly meaningless," she said. The attack may be an example of an increasingly polarized and violent strain of politics in the country, Weiss added.
Local human rights activists condemned the attack. "The attacks are crimes of intimidation and malice against human rights activists, not ordinary petty crimes, as they specifically target those who are vocal and well-known for advocating their causes," Michelle Yesudas, a human rights lawyer, told The Sun Daily.
University administrators said they would wait for the results of a police investigation before taking action.
I've reached out to Syahir and members of his party and will update if I hear back.
Casey Tolan is a National News Reporter for Fusion based in New York City.