In June/July 2011, in anticipation of the Bersih 2 rally, the police under the direction of the UMNO-BN government detained 6 PSM leaders under the Emergency Ordinance (EO). For this 10-year-anniversary of this detention, Thinkleft will run a series of articles documenting the struggle to free the six from unlawful detention.
Click here to read part 1 of this series
Click here to read part 2 of this series
Click here to read part 3 of this series
Click here to read part 4 of this series
Click here to read part 5 of this series
Click here to read statements of support and solidarity for the EO6 from local and international organizations
Cooling off before BERSIH
While the fear of a re-arrest under the Emergency Ordinance was still looming in the air but things took a turn at the national level when on the very next day on July 5th , things started to cool down as BERSIH Chair Ambiga managed to hold an audience with the King. BERSIH then decided that the rally will be moved to the Stadium. The international pressure calling for Malaysia to allow for peaceful assembly and calling for the release of the EO6 also gained momentum. International organizations like Human Rights Watch, OMCT, FIDH and Forum Asia all have called for the release of the EO6.
On the local scene, there was a split on the stadium decision as some people felt that BERSIH should proceed to the streets and not confine itself to the Stadium. Some called that the BERSIH committee should only compromise on the basis that the EO6 and others must be immediately released. The pressure on the BERSIH steering committee was immense. They had to deal with a repressive state and a civil society who were not ready to compromise. It was at this time that the PSM released a press statement, “NO PLEA BARGAINING – STOP THE CHARADE AND RELEASE THE PSM 6”. Here PSM went on to say the 6 would have preferred that the rally to go on and their releases should not be used as plea bargaining or condition to stop the rally. That statement gave the BERSIH committee all the reason to go on. While PSM maintained that our Udahlah campaign had nothing to do with BERSIH2, but yet we could not stay aloof when the BERSIH movement was under threat.
Back in KL, PSM then reorganized its campaign strategy and we moved our base to the PSM headquarters in Brickfields. From here on, the campaign was more organized. We had derived an information flow system to give information, a media alert strategy, as well as a family support team. We had a SMS network system where there were 26 volunteers who would circulate news of the campaign. Updates were sent form time to time – sometimes three updates per day. This SMS network group kept growing by the day as more people came on board to support the campaign. With these, we managed to circulate information to around 600 people at one go, not including social media like Twitter and Facebook.
Meanwhile our legal team under Edmond Bon worked round the clock looking for all angles to secure the release. They worked long hours and were an inspiration to all.
While the police used the courts, police and mainstream media to attack us. We put out an equally strong opposition through public pressure, SMS, Twitter, Facebook and the legal battle. Twitter and SMS was used very effectively during this campaign.
Meanwhile the police raided our Jelapang office on the 5th. Hundreds of people gathered to support Saras when she was brought to the Jelapang office. The police was terrified. The incident got wide coverage. People saw Saras as a hero rather than a villain. The photo of Saras holding both her hands up handcuffed was used by the media repeatedly and was an image of strength and bravery.
Since that day, police did not dare enter another PSM office. It seems that the public was with PSM On the 6th – our lawyers filed the Habeas Corpus but were disappointed when the court gave the date of 12 August for the case to be heard. On the same day Romy was deported to the Phillipines. That eased another headache for us. The release of Romy also did not come easy. There was constant pressure from activists here as well as human rights groups in the Phillipines. His release brought in more cheer as now we could completely focus on the EO6 as everyone else was free.
But on the 7th of July – another threat. This time 91 people were given a restriction order from entering KL including 6 PSM members including myself. Saras and Chon Kai was also on the list. We made a naughty statement calling for the release of the duo because since they were already arrested, they would be violating the court order.
On July 7th, we managed to get our first family visit and it helped us understand the conditions inside. We also had a systematic method in passing and receiving information. The news inside helped us to expose that this was indeed an ISA arrest and not an EO arrest. All the detainees said that they were well taken care inside, not “physically” assaulted but only questioned. We also took a position that we would use all the information inside to expose the police outside. We were clear that only those outside should be calling the shots since those detained were under police custody and may not be able to make the best judgment under detention. This was also an experience we gained in helping other ISA cases as well as other detention scenarios before.
Our strategy outside was to expose all violations using all means. Things like blindfolded, polygraph tests, solitary confinement helped us make the case that this was a human rights violation.
Between the 6th till the 9th – until the BERSIH rally, there was nothing much happening. There was hope that they may be released after the BERSIH rally. So we were waiting for the 9th July BERSIH rally to be over. There were roadblocks all around KL. Many rumors about military gathering at University Malaya and midnight arrests of key leaders were anticipated. Most of the PSM activists moved to KL the night before and I too took refuge in KL while there were rumours of an arrest warrant against me on the eve.
We cancelled the 8 July vigil as well as the 9 July vigil to give way for BERSIH.
To be continued…
Parti Sosialis Malaysia