Sword of Damocles by Richard Westall, 1812 (Public domain) I AM breathing a little easier now. Teresa Kok, Member of Parliament (MP) for Seputeh and state assemblyperson for Kinrara was arrested under the Internal Security Act (ISA) on 12 Sept 2008 for some fictitious crime. She was released after being detained for seven days, when the police found no basis for detaining her any longer.
The sheer level of incompetence and bad faith on the part of the police and the home affairs minister has been debated ad nauseam online, and even in the mainstream media. After all, Teresa Kok is one of the last people you would identify as a racist or someone who plays the race or religious card to incite hatred. I shall not repeat these arguments here.
But for a few hours and days after her arrest, my heart was beating just a tad faster. In my line of work, the ISA is like the sword of Damocles hanging over the head, ready to drop at any time. For opposition politicians like me, we tend to ignore the fact that it’s there. I personally take comfort in the fact that I’m not as big a fish as I’d like to think. Therefore, I liked to assume I was far behind in the queue to Kamunting.
Teresa’s arrest, however, changed all that. It demonstrated that despite not having committed any crime, as long as there are parties that wish to frame you for “crimes” you never even committed, the threat of the ISA is real and immediate. By “parties”, I am referring particularly to influential leaders from Umno or Barisan Nasional in complicity with some of the mainstream media like Utusan Malaysia.
The evening Teresa was arrested, I was speaking at a forum in Malacca on the topic of racial politics in Malaysia. I made a specific reference to the now infamous Datuk Ahmad “penumpang” Ismail controversy. Midway through my speech, an SMS came in, notifying me that the reporter who reported on the above controversy had been arrested under the ISA. It was also rumoured that Teresa was next on the list. I told the audience and shook my head in disbelief.
When I was having dinner after the forum, calls and SMSes flew in, confirming Teresa’s arrest at 11.18pm. Rumours of a longer list of potential detainees were rife, although who the targets were was unclear. For the very first time in my life, I thought being detained under the ISA was a serious possibility.
Some party colleagues advised me to stay the night in Malacca, particularly since I was driving alone in the middle of the night. I thought about it for a short moment, but decided to return to Kuala Lumpur. I was not going to run away as I had committed no crime, and I desperately wanted to be with my family if anything were to happen.
However, after a long day, it didn’t help that my handphone battery was running very low. I called home to update my wife on the situation, and asked her to look out for cars outside the house (there were none). I told her I was on my way back and would be switching off my phone for about an hour or so. I had to conserve my battery, in case I needed to use my phone later.
I reached home safely that evening. But I created some anxious moments for some of my party leaders who couldn’t reach me during the hour when my phone was off. I think I had 16 missed calls and an equal number of SMSes during the period. It’s a little amusing now, but it certainly wasn’t a laughing matter then.
Rumours and resolve
It didn’t help things when the next day, we heard of a rumoured second list of 15 ISA targets. My name was apparently on this list. Whether it was real or concocted by somebody with absolutely nothing better to do, it only strengthened my resolve that the draconian ISA must be abolished, or the government of the day must fall.
Over the next few days, I worked doubly hard as the DAP’s new national publicity secretary succeeding Teresa. I organised activities and pushed for programmes to raise awareness, secure the release of Teresa and other detainees, and abolish the ISA. At the same time, I tried not to neglect my other responsibilities in the party and my constituency.
Thus, I spent even less time with my wife and daughter, especially in the light of the rumoured second list. But I knew I had to make that little sacrifice. Because I know if it had been me who was taken in and not Teresa, she and the other party leaders would have done the same. The party is strong because we are all in it together, and we support each other through thick and thin.
Comforted by this thought, I’m able to continue to find the strength and resolution to fight these unjust laws. I resolve to keep doing whatever is necessary to uphold what is right and to seek a change of government in a fair and democratic manner. I will not let the ISA cower me with fear and helplessness. Instead, I believe that if the rakyat were to stand strong together, we can banish this sword of Damocles hanging over all Malaysians for good and forever.
Tony Pua is Member of Parliament for Petaling Jaya Utara under the Democratic Action Party (DAP). He is the DAP national publicity secretary as well as the investment liaison officer for the Penang chief minister, based in the Klang Valley.