The government has recently introduced new rules to “tighten” the conduct of research projects in Malaysia by foreigners or Malaysians studying in foreign universities which has made the country a laughing stock in the international academic world in showing utter contempt for the twin concepts of academic freedom and excellence.
I find it most shocking and unbelievable that the person presiding over the new-fangled set of rules which is nothing less than a most clumsy attempt at “thought control” to stunt and stifle the faculty and tradition of critical inquiry in academia is the former vice chancellor of Universiti Sains Malaysia, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad, who has taken over as Education Minister after the November 1999 general elections.
If Musa refuses to suspend and review the most anti-academic set of rules governing academic research by foreigners and Malaysians from foreign tertiary institutions, I will seek an appointment with Suhakam in the first week of January to lodge a formal report against the government for grave violation of human rights and academic freedoms in the country.
Under the new government rules, a foreigner or a Malaysian from a foreign institution of learning, who wants to conduct an academic research project in Malaysia must get prior approval from the Socio-Economic Research Unit (SERU) and the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) for an research pass to be issued to enable the researcher to obtain assistance and co-operation from the relevant government agencies.
Without the Research Pass, no foreigner or Malaysian from foreign universities is allowed to conduct any research in Malaysia and no assistance or co-operation from any government agency is permitted.
The foreign researcher, after obtaining the Research Pass, is then required to obtain the professional visit pass from the Immigration Department.
One of the conditions for the issue of a Research Pass is that the foreign researcher (including Malaysians from foreign universities conducting research in Malaysia) must have a local Malaysian academician as research "collaborator" for "mutual benefit" - an euphemism for ensuring the foreign researcher’s "good conduct".
Taliban’s Afghanistan had its “moral police” but Malaysia has now its corps of unwilling “academic police” from local academicians who must take on the role of local “collaborators” of foreign researchers!
The local academician “collaborator” or “police” will be held responsible for the "political correctness" of the foreign researchers in ensuring that they do not raise "sensitive issues" detrimental to the national image and interests although it is not specfied what form of penalty, victimisation or detriment in the advancement of academic career would be meted out for any lapse of the local academic “police”.
The term "sensitive issues" has been defined in the broadest possible fashion as to make any serious research on Malaysia meaningless.
For instance, in the context of national security, "sensitive issues"
means any issue that can cause prejudice, hatred, enmity or contempt between
or towards any ethnic or religious group and can affect public safety,
national security and/or the integrity of the Government and is generally
connected with the following acts or behaviour:
A few of the instances may be acceptable as “sensitive issues”, such as “exaggerating an incident or using rumours or information as the basis for reports that can cause panic or apprehension amongst the people”, but the generality of the examples being imposed on foreign researchers are clearly attempts at “mind-control” to stunt and stifle the faculty and tradition of critical inquiry and inimical to the highest traditions of academic freedoms and excellence.
Musa should retract these unreasonable and ridiculous conditions to research conducted by foreigners or Malaysians from foreign universities, and in particular, end the dragooning of Malaysian academicians to double up as the “academic police” of the government to spy on the foreign researchers.