My 18 hours under the ISA

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During her brief detention under the ISA, which was filled with a lot of uncertainty, journalist Tan Hoon Cheng felt an some unknown strength that supported her throughout.

On 12 September, about 8.30 in the evening, I was at my home in Bukit Mertajam, Penang. While enjoying my yew char koay (fried dough stick), I was worried about the show-cause letter issued to Sin Chew Daily and anxious about the days ahead for my newspaper.

Suddenly, a group of plainclothes police officers appeared at my front gate. The person who started to identify the group and the purpose of this visit was a woman officer. She was also the only one in uniform.

Through the gate, she told me that I had to follow them to the police station. In response to that, I told her that unless they had a warrant of arrest, I would not open the gate. At the same time, I immediately rang up the legal adviser of our company and my direct superior, seeking their advice.

Later, the female officer told me that they were arresting me under Internal Security Act; therefore, a warrant was not required. On hearing that, I was immediately prepared for the worst.

I had to act calm, comforting my parents and reassuring them that my colleagues would be waiting for me at the police station to render assistance. When I was taken away, my parents acted strongly; they kept on asking the police to accord me proper treatment.

I was brought to Seberang Perai Tengah IPD (the district head office), and I was placed in a chilly room while waiting for the police to begin their paperwork. I was accompanied by a female officer, who seemed to be trembling as a result of the low room temperature as well. To break the silence, I initiated a conversation. She told me, “You seemed to be very calm.”

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I told her, “I am arrested under the Internal Security Act, even though I am scared, I have to face this reality. But I am worried about my parents, friends and relatives; they must be very worried about me.”

To be frank, I was very cool-headed. I believed that there had to be a lot of people out there supporting me, giving me the strength that I need, so I had to stay strong, to be with those people who were supporting me.

The police recorded all my personal belongings; these were later taken away from me. After that, I was considered ready to be sent to the Police Contingent Headquarters in Penang. When I was brought out of the police station, I realised that a lot of my colleagues in the media, together with representatives from different parties and groups were already waiting outside the police station to show their support. Seeing this, I was deeply touched; I could no longer hold my tears.

When the police car arrived at the station’s entrance, my superior, Puah Eu Peng, our Northern Region Manager, tried to halt the car with his body, to slow the police car’s movement. He knocked at the window, to make sure that I was in the car and gestured to show me his support.

I instantly wiped off my tears; I realised that a lot of them were staying with me; I had to be with them as well.

After taking my thumbprints, I was given my dinner and arranged to spend my night in remand. I didn’t know that my colleagues in the profession and people from different groups and parties were there to show their support, right outside the station.

Unknown strength

I requested the female officer to keep the lights on. She told me not to worry, she would not switch off the lights. The police also informed me that I would be meeting my parents in the morning at eight. I spent a very long time, thinking of everything I had to tell my parents. I had lost touch with the outside world; this would be my only opportunity, I had to cherish it and clearly explain everything to my parents.

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After clearing my mind and organising my thoughts, I tried to sleep while lying on the wooden bed with the company of the mosquitoes and the noise of water dripping. I had no idea what tomorrow would hold for me, but I knew I had to be in perfect condition to handle everything.

I had never suffered from insomnia and this very night, I finally experienced it. Deep down in my heart, I know that those who care about me would also be experiencing the same; it was heart-wrenching thinking of that.

At six o’clock the next morning, as I was about to wash up, the female officer passed me clothing brought by my parents. I was surprised: everything was new, the toiletries, T-shirts, shorts, panties.

I later discovered that the ‘parents’ that the police officer was referring to were a bunch of my colleagues. While waiting outside the Penang Police Contingent Headquarter, they had prepared all these for me. They were uncertain when I would be released, but they told themselves that they had to get these essential items ready in the briefest time possible.

I met my parents and bade them farewell; the police informed me that they would bring me to  police headquarter in Bukit Aman in Kuala Lumpur. My heart sank; I told myself this was the beginning; I had to brace myself for everything.

After a turn of events, I was brought to the Perak Police Headquarter in Ipoh. After a brief interrogation session, I was then brought back to Penang Police Headquarter.

It was here, where I was interrogated further, that I told myself to keep my mind clear; I had to tell them the truth and respond appropriately.

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After the interrogation session, I was brought to see another higher-ranking officer. He told me, “We can both go home now!”. Both of us turned to the clock on the wall; the time was 2.25p.m.

This was my 18 hours under the ISA. I had gone through a lot.

After being released, I received a lot of messages, telephone calls and bouquets. My colleagues in the press, representatives from political parties, society leaders, schoolmates, classmates, friends and relatives visited me at home. Of course, not forgetting the readers and the public who called up or visited Sin Chew Daily’s office in Penang or the Head Office in Petaling Jaya.

Calls, messages, well wishes, and visits from readers and friends… for all these, I have to express my deepest gratitude. During that 18 hours which was filled with a lot of uncertainty, I felt that there was some unknown strength that supported me throughout; I knew it had to be from you all, those whom I knew or those who I have not even met!

I realise that our journey is still full of challenges and obstacles; so we have to continue with the same righteous spirit and courage that we have all shown this time! Our society needs this spirit, to build a better tomorrow.

I have finally been freed, but I hope Teresa Kok and Raja Petra Kamarudin and all those detainees under the Internal Security Act will be released as soon as as possible. If the authorities think that they have broken the law, they should brought to a court of law to receive transparent and fair trials.

Tan Hoon Cheng is a journalist with Sin Chew Daily

Source: Sin Chew Daily

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