Taking a healthy interest in politics in this country means that at some point, you will, rather you have, to entertain the idea of eventually getting arrested for your activities. This was a concern when I was studying in a local albeit private university and campaigning for an assemblyman candidate during the March ‘08 elections. Even though many told me that the Akta Universiti dan Kolej Universiti 1971 does not apply to private universities, I was still advised to lie low. Anyhow, I remember being adamant in my decision to contribute to change, and no law applicable or otherwise, was going to stop me.
Fast-forward a year, and lo and behold, I have indeed been arrested. It all started with a text message saying there would be a candlelight vigil outside the Brickfields police station in support of the release of Wong Chin Huat, who was arrested at his home the day before for alleged sedition. Chin Huat was my former colleague in Monash, and seeing how the vigil was held a stone’s throw away from where I live, there was no reason for me not to have turned up to show my support.
In all honesty, everything happened very quickly, as fast as you could say “1-2-3. Tangkap mereka”. In fact, that was exactly what happened. No sooner had people started to light their candles, a man whom I assume to be a high ranking policeman armed with a baton came out yelling in Malay, “I will give you to the count of three for you to disperse, or else, I will arrest you. One. Two. Three. Arrest them.”
Now, I often pride myself in being able to read certain signs very quickly and I had sensed that he was serious, and was in the midst of dispersing when a female police officer made a beeline for me. She held me by the arm and escorted me into the station compound. We were brought under a shed that would otherwise have contained parked cars and immediately, plastic chairs were brought out. We were told to sit and ICs were collected.
Then it struck me. Gosh, I really was being arrested. What would my parents say to this? I decided not to inform them (as I still had my phone with me) until I confirmed my arrest. In the end, I really had no choice. I appealed in an SMS to my father not to be angry with me and received a pleasant and supportive reply. He said he understood that a charade was being enacted before Malaysians.
Meanwhile, my friend Temme Lee from SUARAM whom incidentally, I also went to university with, started collecting our names, ages and IC numbers. Very quickly, she and John mobilized lawyers and advice was obtained from fellow SUARAM members.
We were told that our statements had to be taken down, and we each refused (except a few) until our lawyers were present. The police officers then insisted that statements be taken down first, and then only would the lawyers would be admitted. At least that was what I heard.
Of course, we did not settle for this. Several phone calls from Temme to people outside told us that the police had informed our lawyers that we had not requested for lawyers nor did we wish to see any, which was of course, untrue.
In the end, we were asked not for our statements, but personal details such as name, address, occupation, height, weight, level of education and hobbies. I could not help but laughed aloud and said, “tengok TV”. It was a matter of minutes before we were allowed to go without statements and charges.
As we exited the compound, there were cheers from the crowd outside. Far from feeling harrowed, I was happy that the ordeal ended quickly and painlessly. It was after all, only a two-hour experience. In-between that time, all those arrested had a chance to take a group photo.
Now, I suppose there are some lessons I have taken away from this experience. Firstly, the first people who must be seen to appose injustice and show compassion are Christians. Secondly, we must be willing to come out of our comfort zones, and show others by our actions that Christians are not bible-hugging, hymn-singing apathetic people who are content only with “praying” for the wronged and oppressed but that our actions are louder than our words or prayers, important as they are. Thirdly, rather than feel shame for being arrested, I felt an increasing need to tell everyone including my ex students and friends that they should not be consumed by unfounded fears.
I have come across many fearful young people who by the influence either of their parents or of teachers, have been told repeatedly to keep quiet and obey without question. Sometimes I think there are no images to the fear created and the only fear we have is that our dissent would disrupt the little measure of worldly comfort we have. No doubt, this is a strong opinion and I too, am often guilty of inaction. But are our own individual security all that we should live for? Do political struggles not affect young people? I believe they do, and I believe everyone has a role to play in politics, the last of which are actions that result in arrest by the police. The one thing every young person can do is educate themselves of the issues that affect our country, and then, participate and communicate in whatever capacity we can.
I am always encouraged by the words of the character V from the film V for Vendetta who says, “Cruelty and injustice, intolerance and oppression, and where you once had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit; you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting submission. How did this happen? Who’s to blame? Certainly there are those who are more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but then again truth be told, if you’re looking for the guilty, you only need to look, into a mirror.”