A Night To Remember!

by Fr. Paulino Miranda
originally published in the December 2008 edition of Catholic Asian News

Fr. Paulino Miranda“Aah, you, you ketua! Saya tahan you!”

These were the words of an angry, loud and bold uniformed officer, who ran towards me, when he tightly grabbed held of my right arm calling me . I did not resist, handed my lit candle to a friend who was nearby and I was whisked away towards the Black Maria, accompanied by another uniformed officer who held tightly to my left arm. Hence, I had the privilege of having two officers, as if being pulled by two hound dogs leashed to my sides, thrusting me towards the Black Maria which was about 50 meters away.

It wasn’t a dream, I kept saying to myself, “It’s really happening… Paulino Miranda you’re being arrested!” I walked up the truck which bore a registration number WJN 7696. As soon as I stepped into the police truck, I noticed that I was not alone. In the dark truck,(perhaps better termed now as the Dark Maria) there were already so many others whom I could not make out, as it was rather dark. Emotions were running high.

In the background I could hear the voices of Police officers and the FRU screaming their heads off, scaring people off by their squeals of intimidation. Police siren, yells, the sound of the Federal Reserve Unit’s boots thumping on the road coupled with the noise that came from their batons hitting their shields.

Such intimidation and fear tactics were used on innocent people who got together to commemorate the first anniversary of the “BERSIH” rally. A campaign championed by the Rakyat exactly a year ago believing that elections in Malaysia must be free, fair and clean. The assumption is pretty obvious; that the elections of the recent past have been wanting and lacking in sincerity, fairness and freedom.

Peace & Chaos

As I sat in the Black Maria, I remained very calm and composed. I was experiencing peace amidst chaos… and I knew somehow that this peace was none other than God’s abiding presence. I had so much courage that knew no fear, for I had done no wrong. So why should I be afraid or be intimidated by such foolish display of terror and brutality? In silence and in solitude, it was the presence of God. His promises holds true as the Psalmist sings, “Be still and know that I am God!”

I kept praying the Lord’s Prayer and kept that prayerful silence as I drew strength repeating my mantra: “Jesus, I love you”. There were shouts of protest by those detained.

No sooner, as the truck began to move, I got to know that 22 of us were arrested. I felt very comforted to know that among us were other ordinary citizens and professionals.

Phone Contact

We did not know where we were being taken. I knew from having read of experiences of past detainees that their mobiles were confiscated and thus I had to quickly inform at least a friend that I had been taken in. Just then my mobile rang and a parishioner of mine had called to ask if all was well. I said that I had been arrested.

A priest friend called and assured me not to worry, (I told him I wasn’t and that I was okay!) and that Catholic Lawyers were being contacted. My phone kept ringing henceforth. Some I could answer others I could not as I felt the need to be present to the situation.

Police Station Scenario

The truck came to a halt. And somebody from among us said that we were at section 8, PJ police station. We were kept in for a good half hour before we were asked to get out, into the assembly courtyard of the police station. The court yard was surrounded by the FRU personnel, lining on both sides as we got out.

We were instructed to move towards a makeshift stage. Seated on stage were the Selangor Police Chief Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar and two other officers. The Chief Police Officer walked down the stage and informed all of us that we were arrested under section 27 for unlawful gathering. He told us to cooperate with the police in order to record our statements.

Meanwhile, Mr Ronnie Liu, the State Assemblymen of Pandamaran, who was present at the gathering, came by, a little later after we got in the Police station to clarify matters with the CPO, but to no avail. In fact, it was there that Mr. Ronnie Liu too was arrested.

Later, by God’s grace and the efficiency of the Bar council, we were glad to have 15 lawyers who had taken so much trouble to lend assistance and give legal advice. Food and drinks were brought in thru their kindness to us, organised by the P.J. councilors…Thank God for small mercies….we were very hungry!

Police Station Vigil

It was a very long night. We weren’t sure if they were going to release us. Instructions were coming from the top. The delay tactics were quite obvious. We were asked to switch off our mobiles, but we kept them on silent mode and continued to receive and make calls.

There was a huge gathering of concerned citizens awaiting our release outside the police station. Mr Charles Santiago, the MP from Klang too managed to offer us support at the police station.

I was moved when the Chief Minister of Penang, Mr Lim Guan Eng who was speaking to Mr Tony Pua, stole a moment to offer support and strength to me asking me to offer strength to the others. A fine gesture, I should think of a God fearing politician and a good statesman. God bless you Mr. Chief Minister of Penang.

Besides him, the Archbishop Murphy Pakiam too spoke to me via the mobile of Lawyer Leonard Teoh. His Grace said, “Fr. Paulino, Be strong!” I was glad that the Archbishop was rather supportive. My mobile kept buzzing…calls and a SMSes filling up the in-box. Battery was running low.

Waiting Game

The hours were ticking away; it was close to 12.30am when the lawyers got in. By the time the police recorded our statements, some allowing the presence of lawyers, others by themselves. The inspector, who recorded my statement, was one Anis Saiful, 28 years of age. Later I received a body number – 944 – for a photograph (mug shot). I felt like a criminal. I was assigned the number to fit the face. It was close to 5 am.

We waited and waited and we waited….and finally only at about 7.30 am, we were all released (except for one, who had an outstanding arrest warrant), on police bail.

Special mention and thanks to the Catholic lawyers who kept vigil with me until the moment of my release from the police station. I wish to thank lawyers Joy Appukuttan, Mabel Sebastian, Leonard Teoh and Annou Xavier. Syabas too, to the other lawyers who stood tall for all of us.

Unacceptable Abuse

It was one long night. I felt that it was all a sheer waste of precious time and tax payers money spent on such operations carried out by the police personnel.

At the same, we can forgive the police and FRU because they were under instruction from the top, yet I speak for myself that I shall not accept the abuse of power by those who instructed them to act in this manner.

In spite of all that has taken place, I have said this to others, and I shall say this again that I was not shaken nor threatened by this intimidation but as Malaysians who believe in democracy, we shall press on with God’s strength that Justice and Truth will prevail in Malaysia.

I wish to thank all my friends, concerned citizens, priest-friends, family members, loved ones, members of the Catholic community of the Church of the Divine Mercy, good people near and far, for your continual support and presence to all the 23 of us that were arrested on the night of 9th November 2009 … a night to remember!

Photograph from Malaysia Today

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