Monday, May 12, 2008

Thank You So Much and sorry for letting you down

Raja Petra Kamarudin

When the police came to my home last Friday to confiscate my computers, I was not at all shocked or perturbed. I had half-expected that to happen considering the response to my 25 April 2008 article in this same column, Let’s send the Altantuya murderers to hell. And the response I am talking about is the public statement by the wife of the Deputy Prime Minister plus the letter from the Deputy Prime Minister’s Press Secretary.

As the police left my house, they issued me a Section 111 order to report to the Cyber Crime Division of Bukit Aman at 11.00am the following morning for my statement to be recorded. However, at 3.15pm that same day, they phoned me and asked whether I could go there at 4.00pm instead, that means in 45 minutes time, rather than the following day at 11.00am as originally ordered.

I phoned Sam, my lawyer, and he told me I need not comply to this ‘request’ as the Section 111 order had stipulated 11.00am, Saturday, 3 May 2008 and not 4.00pm, Friday, 2 May 2008. Since the order said 11.00am Saturday, then that is the date and time I should report to Bukit Aman and I can legally refuse to their request to come in a day earlier.

Nevertheless, I decided to consent to this request although I had legal grounds to refuse to do so. The police then told me that a police report had been made against me on the article mentioned above so they have to take my statement. I asked to see a copy of the police report plus the statement from the person who had lodged the report but they admitted they did not have it nor has the police officer who was to take my statement seen it yet. For all intents and purposes it did not exist. (Read the full story here: Towering Malays and the ‘hush’ on Peace Hill)

On Monday, at about 9.15pm, I received a phone call from the same police officer who raided my house three days earlier and he wanted to know if I could go to the Jalan Duta magistrates court at 9.30am the following morning, Tuesday, 6 May 2008. He asked me to look for DSP Mahfuz and said that they will be charging me. I asked what they were charging me for and he replied that he does not know. I then said if he knows that I am supposed to report to the Jalan Duta magistrates court and what time and day I am supposed to report there, surely he must know what I am going to be charged for. He replied maybe it is for sedition but he is not sure.

I called the police officer back five minutes later and he confirmed that it will be for sedition after all. But there are so many courts in Jalan Duta. Which court am I supposed to go to? He did not know. He said just hang around the lobby and they will come find me and escort me to the correct court.

I arrived in Jalan Duta at 8.45am, 45 minutes ahead of schedule. By 10.15am I was still hanging around and no DSP Mahfuz came to see me. One of my lawyers then went upstairs to try to find out which court my case was going to be held in and he came back to inform me that there is no case registered yet in the Jalan Duta magistrates court.

At 10.30am, I received a phone call from DSP Mahfuz asking me to go to the PJ sessions court. We all rushed to PJ and arrived there at 11.00am as instructed only to find out that there is no case registered there as well. In fact, the magistrate was on medical leave. Furthermore, no charges against me had been prepared yet.

I was asked to sit down and wait while they phone the magistrate to come back to work. They also needed to prepare the charge and register my case. It appears like they had decided to charge me first and then prepared the charge and decided which court to charge me in as an afterthought.

Under the Sedition Act they need to arrest me or at the very least issue me a summons. A summons under the Sedition Act is bailable but not compoundable like in a traffic summons. The maximum fine is RM5,000 or a jail term of three years or both. In my case, they had not served any summons, nor had they served a warrant of arrest, and my case was not even registered nor the charges prepared. For all intents and purposes, I was in court on my own free will and I need not have gone there if I did not want to.

After a lot of last minute preparing the charge, registering my case, and the magistrate on sick leave finally coming back to work, etc., they charged me, to which I pleaded not guilty. They then set the maximum bail of RM5,000.

This RM5,000 bail was absolutely unnecessary. I need not even have gone to court. There was no legal obligation on my part to do so. They just phoned me to ask whether I could go to court and I agreed to do so. I did so willingly, demonstrating full cooperation, and without forcing them to follow proper procedures. After all, how do I know who was on the other line? How do I know that this was a legitimate and not a crank call? They produced no evidence that I was to be charged and they did ask whether I could come to court -- and a question like that is open to a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. They did not say I must go to court. They asked whether I could go to court.

So, when they imposed the maximum RM5,000 bail I refused to pay it and instead chose to be remanded until the day of the hearing in October 2008. When they asked me why, I replied that they could have posed bail on personal bond seeing how I was very cooperative and did not offer any resistance. I did not even insist they follow proper procedures but was quite willing to respond to mere phone calls.

When I arrived in Sungai Buloh Prison, something happened that put the entire prison on full alert. Sirul and Azilah, who were in the same block as me, Blok Damai, shouted for me to watch my back and that they will get me. I was quickly whisked out of the block. It seems they were angry that the Altantuya murder trial, which had disappeared from the radar screens, has now, again, been given the spotlight. Why should that upset them? Why the need for the Altantuya murder trial to disappear from the radar screens?

I was then assigned to my own cell, cell 8, and was not allowed to come into contact with any of the other prisoners. My cell door was permanently locked and whenever I had to leave my cell they would assign two or three Special Forces personnel, UPK, as my bodyguards. As further precautions, I refused to touch any drink or food as I remembered very well the arsenic poisoning that Dato Seri Anwar Ibrahim suffered when he too was in the same prison.

So, from the time I entered prison until the time I walked out four days later, I did not eat or drink, which of course the prison interpreted as a hunger strike. They told me that a hunger strike is a serious crime and they could charge me for that. But that was the least of my worries at that point of time.

I met no less than five or six senior officers at different points of time who all insisted that I agree to meet my wife and lawyers so that they could arrange bail for me. I made it very clear that I refuse to see anyone because I do not want them to start crying and begging me to agree to bail as that would weaken me. If I shut myself out from the rest of the world that would make it easier to stand firm.

The head of the Special Forces and someone from the Intelligence Unit also met me to explain that they will try their best to keep me safe. Nevertheless, they can’t watch over me 100% of the time so my continued presence in prison is a great burden to the entire staff. We are on full alert and we have to report to the ministry every hour on the hour. No one can sleep because of you, they said, so please agree to bail and leave.

One of the Special Forces chaps told me to never trust anyone. Don’t even trust the men in uniform, not even if they wear this same uniform, he tugged on his shirt to emphasis the point. Your life here is worth a packet of tobacco. Prisoners will kill just for that. And Sirul (or was it Azilah?) is very intelligent, he added. He knows which prisoners can be bought and he has many on his payroll. He can always get someone to do his job for him.

Whenever I was brought out they made sure that Sirul and Azilah, and the other 18 or so police officers that are in their same block, were locked up. Once, when they brought me out, and someone in the walktie-talkie said that the two were in the hospital, they quickly locked me up and only brought me out again after the two were safely locked up. I could see that they were not merely trying to frighten me but were genuinely worried.

Look, they told me, we have only 600 men against more than 5,000 inmates. And not all 600 are on shift at the same time. This prison was built for only 2,500 inmates so we are grossly overcapacity. If anything does happen, our personnel are grossly outnumbered. And with you here the potential for something happening is very great. Please, they appealed, consider your stand of not agreeing to bail. If not for your sake at least for ours. Whether you wish to live or die is your decision. But whatever happens to you will affect all our careers as well.

Anyway, to cut a long story even longer, I finally agreed to meet my wife and agreed to my wife’s appeal that she be allowed to pay the bail. After all, a knife in my stomach would not exactly be what the doctor would recommend.

I made many friends in my very short stay in the Sungai Buloh Prison: the Indian chap who was on trial for kidnapping who kept peeping into my cell to ask whether I needed everything, the Indonesian transvestite across from my cell who kept calling me ‘sayang’ and offered to massage my aching back, the Chinese man on trial for money laundering who asked for my autograph, the air force pilot who searched all over prison for reading glasses so that I could read my books, and all the guards and Special Forces chaps who smiled and gave me the thumbs-up when I greeted them with ‘Makkal Sakhti’. And they all wanted just one thing. They wanted me home so that I can continue to write and so that they can continue to find out the truth as to what is happening in this country.

Yes, I was touched. I was touched that alleged kidnappers and murderers and those we would normally consider the scum of the earth, and all those who are guarding them in prison, know about Makkal Sakhti and want the message of Makkal Sakhti to continue through Malaysia Today. To those who are on the outside looking in, these people are the forgotten people. These people no longer exist. You do not have names in prison. You are just a number and a statistic. But when you are amongst them, you can see that they have chosen a life different from yours -- theirs is a life of crime -- but their aspirations and ideals are the same as we on the outside looking in. They too want justice, equality, democracy, freedom of speech and a better Malaysia for all.

Yes, they might be criminals. And they may be criminals out of choice. But life never really gave them too many choices. Some turn to crime out of greed. But many turn to crime out of sheer need and desperation. And these are the faces I saw in prison, faces of people whom life offered not many choices. But then one of these faces may be the last face I see. One of these faces may be that of the one sent to do the evil deed of those who feel I have brought the spotlight back onto a murder trial that was almost buried and forgotten if not for the article I had written.

My wife knows I can be very stubborn and I seldom back down once I have made my resolution. She also knows that I can marah nyamuk and bakar kelambu, which can be considered irrational to most. But the support from all and sundry kept her strong and allowed her the will to fight. She is very touched with the support shown and the solidarity demonstrated by friends, bloggers and readers of Malaysia Today. In such a situation words can never really explain how one feels. To all Malaysians, on behalf of my wife and my entire family, I would like to express our most sincere gratitude. And this comes from the bottom of our hearts.

And to all Malaysians, I also want to say that I am sorry for allowing myself to be persuaded in agreeing to accept bail. I feel like I have let you down after earlier rejecting bail and instead choosing to stay in jail until my hearing in October. Under the circumstances, why should I allow my adversaries to finish me off like a cornered rat? At least if one has to go down let it be one goes down fighting.

On the money collected thus far, if all you donors can agree to it, I am going to propose that the surplus be put into a BLOGGERS DEFENCE FUND so that any blogger who may in future suffer persecution from the powers-that-be will have financial support to stand and fight. The bail is of course refundable and can be put back into the fund for future use. And the fund can also be used for legal costs whenever we can’t find lawyers who will defend bloggers on a pro bono basis.

That is all for today. I am still slightly disoriented and my aching back is not allowing me to focus that well -- so sorry if my piece today is slightly below par.

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