EVEN as we look forward to 2009, I would like to recount the events of 15 December 2008, when I got arrested for the second time within one week.
It began at about 4pm with SMSes from coordinators of Jerit’s bicycle campaign reporting that the police in Rawang were moving in aggressively on the group. Four coordinators were asked to go report at the Rawang police station, and the campaign bus was diverted to the same police station. Police personnel and a black maria turned up at the coffee shop where the cyclists were having tea with Rawang state assemblyperson Gan Pei Nei.
I decided that being in Rawang was more important than trying to participate in the debate on the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission in Parliament at that time. By the time I had battled the traffic to Rawang, 58 people were being shepherded by the police into the police station. I managed to get into the balai just before the front gate was closed. The OCPD, when I introduced myself to him, asked me to wait outside, so I said I was with the group he was arresting. “Are you the organiser?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied. “Arrest him also!” Thus, I got to be with the cycling team.
The writer alongside arrested participants of the bicycle campaign (All pics courtesy of Jerit.org)
About 20 minutes later I managed to meet the OCPD — one of the benefits of having the YB tag, and the reason why I always try to be there when police pressure gets too much. He said that there were two reasons why the police had detained the cycling team. The first was that we had not applied for a permit to conduct a procession, and therefore had contravened Section 27 of the Police Act. This we had been hearing since the start of the campaign.
But the second reason was novel — the police in Rawang apparently had reason to believe that the organisers of the campaign were exploiting cyclists under 18 years old. He said that this ran afoul of the Child Act, and that the police had to intervene to protect the children from the organisers.
Demolishing the argument
A Sivarajan, one of the Jerit coordinators, and I poked holes in his first charge by pointing out that the northern team of cyclists had by then cycled through Alor Setar, Sungai Petani, Kulim, Georgetown, Bagan Serai, Taiping, Sungai Siput, Ipoh, Kampar, Tapah, Tanjong Malim and Kuala Kubu Baru. In all of these police districts, the OCPDs concerned allowed us through because they inevitably accepted that cyclists cycling in an orderly single file do not constitute a “procession”.
“How come the Rawang officers judge differently? Are you saying the 12 OCPDs who allowed us to cycle were all wrong?” we asked him.
Detainees at the Rawang police station
As for the second charge, we explained that we had the permission of the parents. “I need proof,” the OCPD said. “Something in black and white.”
When we showed him the consent letters that we had from each of the parents of the under-18s, the OCPD’s second charge was demolished. We agreed to his request that Sivarajan and I give 112 statements as we had admitted to being the coordinators, and that the IC details of all the cyclists be documented. This took about two hours, and I thought we would be able to leave the police station by 8.30 pm.
Unfortunately for us, the Selangor Chief Police Officer, Datuk Khalid Abu Bakar, turned up with patrol cars and outriders. The police chiefs went into a huddle for an hour, and emerged to announce they were arresting all 32 adults present on the two charges mentioned earlier — illegal procession and child abuse. All 32 had to give 112 statements. The 27 under-18s would be handed over to the Welfare Department for protection until their parents arrived to claim them.
It turned out to be a long wet night after that. We were confined to an open shed in the compound of the Rawang balai, and not allowed to communicate with our friends outside. Our phone batteries were fading; we got drenched in the downpour; and we were told that welfare workers would be taking away all the under-18s to another location.
But there were several silver linings to the black cloud of police oppression. One was the crowd of 500 Rawang citizens who turned up in front of the police station to express solidarity and to protest police high-handedness. They braved the heavy downpour and stayed outside the tightly shut main gate of the station past midnight despite the police deploying several Federal Reserve Unit trucks outside the balai to intimidate them.
Federal Reserve Unit truck on the scene
Another silver lining was my 15 year-old son’s decision to stay with his friends in police detention though I could have taken him out when my wife, Rani, and I were released on bail at 3am. Many of his under-18 friends in detention could not leave custody as their parents had not yet arrived. So my son and the sons of four organisers had decided among themselves that they would stay until all the 27 youths “rescued” by the police from our “clutches” could come out of detention together. Despite being wet and tired, I was elated by the demonstration of solidarity among these teenagers.
Yet another silver lining appeared the next morning. We had expected that some of the parents would take their children back with them, given the ferocity of police opposition to the campaign. However, after talking to their children and among themselves, all the parents who came decided to acquiesce to their children’s wishes to stay on and complete the campaign. The parents departed, but not before giving the police a tongue-lashing for detaining their children. So much for the charge that we were exploiting the teenagers.
The best of all was when the entire team made it to Parliament on 18 December 2008 to hand over their memorandum despite all the threats and obstacles in their way. The cyclists and the organisers were ecstatic. They had persevered despite tremendous pressure, and had completed their campaign successfully. Davids sometimes do win in the face of Goliaths, and that’s what gives us all hope.
Victory nonetheless, in front of Parliament
Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj is a physician by training and a founding member of PSM. He is currently Member of Parliament for Sungai Siput.