It is a most ominous development heralding the commitment of the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad to implement his menacing declaration of a New Dark Age when introducing the Third Outline Perspective Plan 2001-2010 in Parliament in early April that he was ready to break from “international norms" on democracy and human rights to consolidate his power position.
It is most ironic that the arrest of the President of Majlis Perwakilan Mahasiswa Universiti Malaya (MPMUM), Mohamad Fuad Mohd Ikhwan, a day after another student activist Khairul Anuar was also nabbed under the ISA, took place while the Education Minister, Tan Sri Musa Mohamad was lamenting on the decline of the intellectual culture among the university students in the campuses.
If Musa is serious in wanting to see the return of a vibrant intellectual culture in the local universities, then the first thing he must do is to stop the use of the ISA against students as well as initiate the repeal of anti-intellectual laws like the Universities and Universities Colleges Act which are the primary causes for the death of the intellectual culture both among academicians and students in our universities.
The ISA detention of the six reformasi activists, the MCA takeover of Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press, the “missiles” the government is preparing against the Internet, and now the two ISA student arrests, are not isolated developments but collectively foreshadow a lurch towards the greatest threat to democracy and human rights in the two-decade premiership of Mahathir and the history of Malaysia.
All Malaysian democrats must stand up to oppose the latest encroachments on what is left of human rights and democratic freedoms 44 years after Independence in 1957.