The International Islamic University campus in Gombak.
KUALA LUMPUR: A court ruled Monday that a law banning college students from political activities was unconstitutional, in a move hailed by the ban's opponents as a landmark decision.
Students have long campaigned for a repeal of the 1971 Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA), which bars them from joining political parties and trade unions, saying the ban violates human rights and free speech.
The Court of Appeal ruled that the law contravened constitutionally protected freedom of expression.
"This is a landmark decision... the net effect is that students are free to participate in political activities now," lawyer Ashok Kandiah, who represented four former political science students in challenging the ban, told AFP.
However, a lawyer representing Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia attended by the students told the court he would appeal the decision to the Federal Court, Malaysia's highest.
The students launched the court challenge last year after the university threatened them with disciplinary action after they were accused of campaigning for Malaysia's political opposition in a local by-election.
The Kuala Lumpur High Court had earlier upheld the ban's constitutionality. The students were eventually cleared of any wrongdoing.
Ahmad Syazwan Muhammad Hasan, of the Islamic student organisation Gamis, welcomed the decision.
"UUCA was implemented to block the student movement. It breaks our social freedom," he told AFP.
The law was amended in 1975 to include the politics ban in the wake of large-scale political demonstrations the previous year by university students protesting government economic policies.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak -- who is expected to call elections within months -- pledged in September to scrap laws considered repressive and promised greater respect for civil liberties.
Among the laws Najib has targeted for repeal is the much-maligned Internal Security Act, which allows detention without trial.
However, the premier said at the time that the universities law would also be reviewed.