From Esplanade to Jelutong

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An impromptu anti-ISA vigil to mark the 50th anniversary of the ISA was held outside the Jelutong Police Station in Penang for a good half an hour after the one planned at the Speakers’ Square was disrupted, reports Anil Netto.  

On 1 August 2010, the 50th anniversary of the enactment of the Internal Security Act, a group of pro-ISA rowdies infiltrated the crowd attending a vigil at the Esplanade leading to some scuffling and shoving.

But it was only those anti-ISA activists at the vigil who were arrested: Suaram Penang coordinator Jing Cheng, PSM’s Chon Kai, Pekerja Tanjung activist Kris Khaira and lawyer Darshan Singh were taken away in a truck to the Jelutong Police Station.

Despite repeated police warnings to disperse, the crowd at the Esplanade stood their ground, until the cops finally felt that there had been one too many press conferences and stepped in to show they meant business. By then many had already dispersed while others had gone to the Jelutong Police Station to lend support to those arrested.

It was indeed ironic that the four were arrested at the Speakers’ Square which is supposed to uphold freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. What happened that night defiled that hallowed spot.

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About 30 activists and anti-ISA protesters, with a large contingent of media in tow, then turned up outside the Jelutong Police Station by 10.00pm. They held out a banner bearing the words “Mansuhkan ISA!” and chanted the same words. Many passing motorists honked in support.

Half an hour later, when Jelutong police figured out what was happening, they emerged from the station to give the activists five minutes to disperse. That prompted a couple of them to sing “We shall overcome”! A policeman behind one activist tried to blow out her candle from over her shoulder, while another plainclothes cop stomped on a candle at the edge of the road.

The activists and friends then dispersed to nearby coffee shops.

Meanwhile, lawyers Lim Kah Cheng (an MPPP councillor), Agatha Foo and Karen worked hard to assist those arrested. A fourth unidentified lawyer secured a promise from a senior police officer that the four would be released on police bail by midnight. (As an aside, it was interesting to see women lawyers at the forefront that night, negotiating with police in both Penang and PJ.)

Someone joked that the four would definitely be released as there were three lawyers and a priest inside the station to lend a hand!

Just around midnight, as those arrested were about to be released, uniformed police entered the coffee shop where Lau Shu Shi, the former Suaram Penang coordinator who is now with Awam, was seated with friends and activists. A policewoman escorted her to the Jelutong Police Station.

There, Shu Shi was served with a warrant of arrest in connection with a May 2008 offence under Section 19 of the Police Act. Shortly after, she was released but had to appear in court the next morning.

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The police even took away Jing Cheng’s ISA T-shirt (for evidence?!). He emerged from the police station with a jacket borrowed from a friend.

Meanwhile, activist B K Ong reports on his encounter with the pro-ISA group:

“I arrived at the vigil scheduled for 9.00pm some half an hour early. I noticed police blocking the entrances to the Esplanade. I walked towards the Esplanade field where some people were scattered around. Before I could say ‘hello’ to a few familiar faces the crowd started retreating from the sea side, dogged by a few uniform police. When the crowd was pushed out of the field, the police stopped. So the crowd was milling around the edge of the field, just inside the walkway besides the main road. Then a group of fierce-looking and foul-mouthed people in their thirties or forties marched towards the scattered crowd. They don’t look like the anti-ISA civil society type. I could not resist taking a photo of them. That make them focus in my direction.

“I pretended to sit down on a concrete fencing at the edge of the field, adjusting my camera. Some of the folks above spoke in Bahasa Malaysia and instigated each other to do something about me. Then one of them embolden himself and came to sit next to me. He pretended to speak into his hand phone but pushed his elbow till it touched my face. He was muttering ‘Mau cari pasal? Mau cari pasal?‘ He must have been trying to pick a fight with me as instigated by a few other voices from that fierce-looking crowd. I stood up and moved into the walkway slowly, avoiding the eye contact which could be interpreted as a sign of agreement to engage with him in the only way he wanted. Then the guy next to me declared his victory by laughing with his friends. They make even more instigation e.g. to pull off my beard.

“Before the guy could come closer to me a police personnel marched in to shout at the folks above to ask them to disperse. The police only asked them not to force the police to make arrests – which was in strong contrast to the police’s preemptive arrests of three organisers of the peaceful anti-ISA candle light vigil earlier.

The group quickly crossed the road and assembled defiantly at a corner outside a building of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce.”

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