After the pre-dawn fire on June 29, various UMNO leaders, including Ministers and political aspirants, blamed anti-government students for sabotage and being responsible for the fire - even calling for the resignation of the University of Malaya Vice Chancellor, Datuk Anuar Zaini Mohd Zain.
Umno Youth chief and Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Hishammuddin Tun Hussein led off the “sport” in the witch-hunt for “militant students” allegedly causing the pre-dawn fire to protest against a visit by the Prime Minister, joined in the chorus even by the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Datuk Dr. Rais Yatim who usurped the powers of the Attorney-General when he said he had directed prosecuting officials to liaise with the police in their investigations if the fire was due to arson - not to mention the crude outbursts by the head of Puteri UMNO.
Now that the Fire Department had cited a short circuit as the probable cause of the fire, and which recommended that government departments and agencies should conduct fire safety checks on their buildings at least once a year, are these trigger-happy politicians like Hishamuddin, Rais and others prepared to publicly apologise for their baseless aspersions on students activists in the campuses?
After the fire, an atmosphere was created that the campus have become a hotbed of militant anti-government activities, and although the arrest of Muhamad Fuad and Khairul Anuar under the ISA was not officially linked to the fire, it provided a backdrop to justify the use of the draconian ISA against student activists - for the first time in the 20-year premiership of Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad.
There is nothing wrong in students being anti-Barisan Nasional government, as it is not the Barisan Nasional government but the Malaysian taxpayers who are funding the tertiary education of the students - and it is a gross perversion of the truth to equate anti-government students with militant students who would set fires to public buildings like the Dewan Tunkun Chanselor.
The Barisan Nasional government and the police should call off their reign of terror in the campuses to cow independent-minded students so as to allow a vibrant intellectual culture to flower in our universities.