Following the arrests made on previous night on participants at the peaceful candlelight vigil in solidarity with Bersih activist Wong Chin Huat, my friends and I were informed to be on standby for possible new arrests on the night of 7 May 2009.
I headed home after work and decided to go to the gym early that night at around 8pm, while being on standby to head straight to the police station in case arrests were indeed made. I kept looking at my handphone for any updates. It was 930pm and I decided to leave the gym. Five minutes after that, I got a message from Puspawati Binti Rosman saying that 14 people had been arrested by the Police. I forwarded the message to Murnie Hidayah Binti Anuar, asking her to come to the police station to render legal assistance to those who had been arrested.
Puspa was the first to arrive at the police station and at around 10pm, all of us gathered in front of the police station. We informed the police that we were the lawyers for those who have been arrested. We demanded the police to give legal access to our clients. The officer-in-charge told us that the investigating officer (IO), DSP Jude Pereira, was in a meeting at that point in time. We tried to stay in touch with our clients in order to obtain recent updates on their condition, and we gave them legal advice over the phone. Our clients informed us that the police had asked them to sign the certificates under section 28A(8) of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), i.e. the waiver to the right to legal representation. We advised them not to sign the certificates.
After waiting for nearly an hour, we were informed that the IO’s meeting had just finished. We demanded to see the IO but to no avail. I called the IO’s number and when he answered, I demanded that he give us access to our clients since we had been waiting outside the gate for nearly an hour.
He said that he had invoked section 28A(8) of the CPC and that our clients had signed the certificates. I got so upset that I repeatedly told him that our clients had not signed the certificates. At that very moment, every one who was there could hear, loud and clear, the cries of our clients demanding their constitutional right to see their lawyers, as they shouted, “WE WANT LAWYERS!”
I told the IO to come near the gate where we were standing as we needed to talk to him to clarify the situation. He came towards us and he repeatedly said that our clients had signed the certificates and he asked us to leave. When I asked him to specify the grounds for invoking section 28A(8) of the CPC, he said, “That’s the ground!”.
And I responded, “What IS the ground? Can you please specify the ground??” He kept quiet as he was unable to answer that simple question. Dissatisfied with his response, we demanded to see the certificates ourselves. He just walked off, leaving us without any explanation.
A few minutes later, OCPD Wan Abdul Bahari approached the gate and ordered everyone to disperse in three minutes as what was happening outside the gate was allegedly an illegal assembly. I could see the press and those who were there leaving the place. Ravinder Singh Dhalliwal, Puspa, Murnie, Syuhaini Binti Safwan and I did not step back as we were fully aware of the fact that we were still on duty.
The OCPD counted to three, the gate was opened, and all we could see was the police officers coming towards us. We were all arrested. We were brought to the police station car park and asked to stay there. I got a call from Amer Hamzah Arshad asking me to tell the police that our lawyers wanted to see the IO. I called one police officer and told him that our lawyers needed to see the IO. Much to my surprise, he had the nerve to tell us that we were not under arrest. We asked him, “If we are not under arrest, that means we can walk out now right?” He just looked at us. What a mockery!
Each of us started to call our families and lawyers. While waiting for the IO to get back to us, we just couldn’t help but laugh over the arrests. Don’t get us wrong, it’s not that we enjoyed being arrested, but it was just that the whole situation did not make any sense at all and the best thing that we could do was laugh over the ludicrousness of the institution called “Polis Di Raja Malaysia”, an institution that is supposed to uphold law and order in this country of ours.
“Violated” is the best description as to our feelings in relation to the whole scenario when law, fairness and justice were replaced with highhandedness, arbitrariness and gross violation by an institution that is entrusted to do the contrary. I could still remember, one month ago during a planning meeting on urgent arrest training at the Legal Aid Centre, one question that was raised was the possibility of lawyers being arrested whilst discharging their statutory duties. After what happened last Thursday night, the answer is yes, in line with the infamous tagline “MALAYSIA BOLEH” – anything is possible, including the deliberate breach of constitutional law, the highest law of the land.
We were kept in Brickfields Police Station until 4am. The waiting game was utterly exhausting and emotionally draining. The fact that we had the support from the conscientious members of the Malaysian Bar made us all stronger to face the situation. Knowing that the conscientious members of the Bar would always be there for us reaffirmed, and continues to reaffirm, our beliefs that the struggle must continue. The fact that all conscientious members of the Bar are behind us reaffirms that the Rule of Law still has the chance to flourish.
We are lucky that we could see for ourselves, before our very own eyes, how degrading the conditions in the lock-up are. It struck me in the head that once you are being held in the lock-up, you lose your dignity as a human being. The unfair treatment given to us and our clients who first got arrested speaks for itself. They were yelled at and intimidated when statements were being taken down. Why the double standard?
Can’t we all be treated as normal human beings?
Does God treat lawyers and laymen differently?
It’s a blessing indeed, to have experienced all this first-hand.
We don’t fight this battle just for us, it’s for humanity as a whole.