An angry night to remember

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The melee when the police charged in

Sunny Lim turned up at the Abolish ISA vigil near Amcorp Mall to peacefully express his opposition to the ISA. Little did he realise that he would be arrested, along with 22 others, and hauled off to the police station. The things he saw that night have made him angry, very angry…

The Abolish ISA candlelight vigil in Petaling Jaya on Sunday, 9 November 2008 was a meaningful and memorable one for those who were present. But, it was marred by the sudden arrest of some participants at the field of MBPJ in the midst of singing Negaraku. I was one of them detained. My name is Sunny Lim and let me take you with me, no rather with us (those who were detained on the same night with me) for an unprecedented experience on that memorable night.

 

The weather was kind and the night air was filled with patriotism. The national anthem was heard loud and clearly sung by all present in unison. Before it was over, my arm was grabbed by a plainclothes officer. I suffered shock for a moment and wondered what had gone wrong. I remained composed and walked along with him. This particular officer was kind to me; perhaps it was my age. I am a 58-year old man who only wanted to play a societal role to call for the abolition of the ISA in a peaceful way. Lighting a candle to show us the way will not even hurt a fly. But I could not hold a candle because the videocam in my hand would help me to record all the wonderful moments and the peace-loving people around.

 

This particular officer allowed me my requests – to walk with him (no doubt he was still holding on my arm), to leave my videocam alone, and let me climb up the truck by myself.

 

It was pitch-dark inside and I moved to where I could see with the help of the light shining in from the road. I was not alone! Someone had beaten me to it. I sat down oblivious to whoever was in there. The first thing that surged in my mind was my daughter who came with her boyfriend. I called her and was happy that they did not have to share the same predicament. Then, my voice rang out. “Girl I have been arrested. I am fine, please tell mum not to worry.”

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Well, it is the usual endearment you and I would say when a situation like this arises. Of course, she might worry like hell or perhaps turn hysterical by the news of my arrest or go ballistic for not heeding her advice not to go. But my beloved wife is not like this; she allowed me to make my own decision, with her caring words that I should look after myself. Well, what are spouses for anyway? Perhaps, I failed to look after myself well enough that night and caused the tears of anguish to fill her eyes instead.

 

Yes, I failed to look after myself because I refused to budge while singing the National Anthem. Yes, I failed to look after myself because I showed my patriotism, and yes, I failed to look after myself because I was with other peace-loving Malaysians. This was how a 58-year old Malaysian man finally failed himself!

 

I remained composed but not for long because one by one, those arrested were hauled in. A young man in his early 20s was disorientated; both his hands were cuffed behind him. We told him that he was not alone and no one would leave him behind. It was not our assurance but our promise.

 

Suddenly, a man was pushed in and he fell on his back with his hands cuffed behind him. He could not get up and yelled for our help to lift him up, and in a jiffy uncountable hands were all over him. He screamed at the police to loosen his handcuffs but was shouted back by the police to shut up. I was as helpless and unable to help him except to give a few words of encouragement to hold on. He had to bear the agony inflicted around his wrists for nearly an hour.

 

Then, a woman entered with her hands cuffed behind her back too. Later, I got to know her: she was Angela and of my age. Her son was not under arrest at that point but accompanied his mother to the truck. He was arrested as well for doing so. Arresting her with handcuffs behind her back made me a very, very angry man. But I was blessed that I had a newfound younger sister.

 

I could not believe my eyes when I saw a priest in white robes being helped up into the truck. He could not hear me calling him “Father” because I had a lump in my throat looking at what I should not be seeing. But at least, I had the honour of holding his elbow to help him up.

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A few YBs and lawyers were not spared either. When the lawyers asked the police why we were arrested, they were arrested as well (for asking?). Just fantastic! It was pandemonium actually and everyone was busy making calls with their hand phones.


I looked out when the siren blared and we were on our way.

As we cruised along, I began to feel like we were like cattle being taken to a slaughter house. You may wonder why I choose such figures of speech. The truth is because of the way those unlucky ones were manhandled.

 

We reached our destination and were kept for some 20 minutes in the stuffy truck. Then the FRU officers arrived to encircle the area meant to be a parking lot to ensure that none of us would play out the movie, The Great Escape. But none of us was a Charles Bronson in-the-making that night but peaceful Malaysians, just ourselves.

 

We were asked to sit while the FRU officers were watching us like hawks. The first hour, everyone was busy either answering incoming calls or to respond to “sms(es)”. We got to know each other and we each had a tale to tell.

 

All of a sudden, fireworks lit the sky and we acknowledged spontaneously with claps and cheers. Bersih had announced its first anniversary!

 

Many of us were not amused. It was because we had shared the same venue that the police had taken such action.

 

I sat by myself after getting to know everyone because my anger refused to leave my system. With each person I got to know, I could see their eyes telling me a story. The police offered us a carton of cupped drinks and my parched throat had no complaint.

 

Then, I spoke to my wife and she was calm, but her voice betrayed her. It cracked with concern as she kept asking me about the well-being of those who were with me. Whose spouse would not ask and be concerned?

 

As dawn was about to break, my vision blurred because, looking at those with me, the silent message of solidarity emerged to harness my belief that Malaysians are beginning to stand up and be counted for what they believe in. I released a pretentious yawn to hide my emotion and wiped away the angry tears welling up in my eyes. I shed silent tears for a reason – the reason that I believe in our Jalur Gemilang!

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Exhaustion seeped in as the clock ticked away. The battery in their handphones went flat.

 

Friends and sympathisers gathered and sang the National Anthem outside the police station. They stayed on, expecting us to be released at around 4.00am but were disappointed. So were we. Some found their way into the adjacent building and gave us a roar of support to show that they were with us. It was very touching and we all waved back to acknowledge their kind gesture at such a time of need.

 

State assembly member Lau Weng San was assaulted by the police.

 

What has gone wrong with our system? For elected reps and others to be subjugated to such uncalled for treatment is horrendous! Shouldn’t the police be mobilized to provide protection rather than to make blatant arrests? Men, women and children were about to disperse after singing the National Anthem; such mayhem was totally unnecessary.

The presence of the human right lawyers was exemplary.

 

Fifteen lawyers from the Selangor Bar Council arrived within an hour. They advised us how to go about making the statements and about our right to remain silent. They did not come emptyhanded. Fried chicken and drinks were sufficient for all of us and were a welcome sight. We thank you for your compassion.

 

In jubilant mood despite the long wait.

 

The bailers came after our statements were recorded. Many shook our hands instead. For what I wondered. Simple. If it is not you, it will be us to be arrested too. Strangers became friends and friends became brothers and sisters among Malaysians that brought forth unity. It was all for a good cause with just little white candles burning brilliantly in the dark under the starry sky.

 

I reached home and silently sneaked into my room. On the half-empty bed lay my beloved wife, snuggling under the comforter not realising I was home. I knew she could not sleep and perhaps her exhaustion had taken a toll. Refusing to wake her up, I left the room leaving the hiss escaping from the air-conditioner to sing her a lullaby.

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