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Supporter wearing a “Free RPK” t-shirt.

THE arrest of 23 people who participated in a peaceful candlelight vigil on the night of 9 Nov 2008 in Petaling Jaya has resulted in uproar and indignation. The vigil was meant to protest against the Internal Security Act (ISA) and to commemorate the first anniversary of the Bersih street rally.

But while participants were singing the national anthem, the police charged and arrested people, manhandling some of them.

Condemnations of the way the police handled the vigil are aplenty. While all, but one, of the detainees have been released since, the atmosphere that night was one of disbelief and frustration.

I was not at the rally that night, but when I heard of the arrests, I made my way there with some friends to keep a vigil for those who were detained. Those who were at the rally shared tales of police brutality with those of us who started trickling in to show our support. The arrival of a woman in a patient’s apron attire, a bloodied I’m with RPK (Raja Petra Kamarudin) t-shirt and a bandaged head gave credence to the stories.

Roadblocks were placed all around the Petaling Jaya police headquarters that night to prevent traffic from entering the area, yet a crowd managed to gather outside the front gate. The gate was closed and guarded by a platoon of police officers in riot gear. Someone wryly commented on the irony of the situation: the police had to barricade themselves from the public, instead of being out on the streets catching criminals.

It was a long night for me, but much longer for those who were detained, and the families who had to wait outside for news of their loved ones.


The 23 people, plus one other who was arrested outside the police station for questioning the arrests, are just statistics in the eyes of the media. The police said the 23 were arrested because they were part of an illegal assembly.

Media reports did not mention how they were arrested or how these people threatened public order. The stories by the traditional media were about numbers. But it was a story of fear for me.

(© pirshulet /

PJ Utara MP Tony Pua, Kampung Tunku assemblyperson Lau Weng San and everyone else must have breathed a sigh of relief when they were released. But when the arrests happened, it no doubt created a lot of fear and anxiety for their loved ones who had no inkling of what was going on.

Even though I was not arrested, I am certain my mom would have been worried sick if she found out I was keeping vigil that night. I can hear her voice telling me that I could be similarly arrested for “illegal assembly” for being outside the police station. This is why I didn’t tell her what I was doing until after the event.

Edward Ling, who is personal assistant to Subang Jaya assemblyperson Hannah Yeoh, was also told by his girlfriend not to get arrested if he chose to go to the police station that night. Ling said he came despite his girlfriend’s fears because he believed that should any of us be caught, for whatever reason, we would want others to turn up in solidarity.

I highlight these because it is more than one person’s courage involved in facing what we do. Our loved ones too, have to face the fears we do.

Were we crazy?

Some would no doubt describe the hundred-odd persons who gathered in front of the police station as crazy for holding vigil for those who were detained. I think those who call us crazy are crazier for turning a blind eye to all that is happening.

Apathy led us down this path where the people tasked with protecting us sometimes do us harm instead. Can we seriously look away and pretend that everything is okay? Dare we?

MBPJ councillor KW Mak notes that this week’s article has little to do with local governance issues. But he believes that he has to put in perspective, what the traditional media did not, the events on the night of 9 Nov 2008.

See also Bersih’s first anniversary ends in arrests.

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One Response to “Fear”

  1. Jarod says:

    The people were not crazy when they come in huge numbers to support the abolition of the ISA. And when these people were detained, we should give them the support they need. How about those who are in Kamunting? They too deserve people to support them morally.

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