Thursday, July 19, 2007

Four Days Under the OSA

An account from Nathaniel Tan from the time he was arrested on last Friday afternoon till he was released on Tuesday evening.
Four Days Under the OSA
By Nathaniel Tan
July 19, 2007 1:27PM

I was arrested on Friday, July 13 at approximately 4.30pm in the carpark basement (B3) of Phileo Damansara I by four to five policemen. While originally being taken in for questioning, the police arrested me when I conveyed to them my lawyer's advice that I should not accompany the police to their office unaccompanied by legal counsel.

From Phileo Damansara, I was taken to my house where the police confiscated my computer, some CD's and some documents. From the moment I was arrested until about 11 pm, I was not allowed to speak to anyone I knew, or inform anybody of my whereabouts. I later learnt that this caused an immense and completely avoidable amount of stress and anxiety amongst my loved ones. I was eventually made to understand that I was arrested in connection to accusations made on the Internet regarding Deputy Internal Security Minister Johari Baharum.

The connection to me was based on a comment made on my blog that was made by an anonymous commentator on Februrary 10 this year. It was prepostorous of the police to suspect me of publishing these accusations based on documents protected by the Official Secrets Act that were supposedly in my posessesion. There is absolutely nothing even remotely resembling proof to substantiate such claims. Throughout my detention, the police employed various questioning strategies in what struck me strongly as a concerted attempt to make me admit to things that I had not done. (this kind of police force we have????)

The police also subjected me to various rounds of questioning between about 5.30pm and 9pm by different police officers who all kept asking me the same questions. I later learnt that questioning at such late hours was in fact illegal. One of the officers questioning me that evening who refused to identify himself threatened to slap me and throw me across the room. Not having access to legal counsel, I refused to answer in detail any questions the police posed in their extremely suspicious manner.

Stroke of Luck
The situation worsened on Saturday, July 14. Despite my repeated appeals to the police officers accompanying me to court to be produced before the magistrate for the remand hearing, they absolutely refused to notify my family or, more importantly, my lawyers that I was to be produced in court. This caused in me a great deal of undue stress because I feared that I would be forced to face the magistrate without any legal representation. Entirely by a stroke of luck, a lawyer at the magistrate's court was able to assist me in contacting my lawyer, R Sivarasa. Had the said lawyer not been present, I may have not been given the opportunity to be represented by counsel during my hearing, and my remand order may have been for fourteen days instead of four.

Even after my lawyer arrived, the police made every possible effort to block me from consulting with him, denying me extremely basic human rights connected to judicial due process. This even included repeatedly trying to spy and eavesdrop on the conversations I was attempting to have with my lawyer. After the remand order was allowed, the police continued to pursue the same line of questioning. Having being advised by my lawyer during my remand hearing not to answer any questions or sign any statements, I refused to answer the increasingly combative line of questioning by the police.

On Saturday itself, a senior officer employed physical means in an attempt to intimidate me into answering their questions. This included shoving me into a chair while I was standing handcuffed. Although I had stated my intent to exercise my right to silence, and despite my lawyer's argument that the police had all the evidence they required to investigate me, the police's insistence on holding me for all four days proved a complete waste of my time and of police resources. I was also made to endure unhygenic and pitifully substandard accommodations in the lockup throughout this time.

All other attempts to pressure and coerce me into providing information under adverse conditions failed. Finally, on Monday, I was allowed to see my family, who conveyed to me fresh advice from my lawyer regarding what information I could provide. Armed at last with the knowledge that I had been seeking since Friday, I was more than happy to provide all the information I had available to the police. The entire ordeal for both myself and the police could have been avoided if the police had extended some basic human courtesy and decency in allowing me to consult fully with legal counsel before cooperating with the police, which I was more than happy to do under fair and reasonable circumstances.

Ill formed and Counter-productive
I fear greatly that my arrest despite the non-existent ties between the accusations against Johari Baharum and myself portend badly for Malaysia's abilty to deal with true cyber crime. The fact that I appear to be the best suspect they could arrest in relation to this case indicates that the police do not understand how the Internet works, and are at a complete loss as to how to handle true cyber crime. In my particular case as well, the government and police appear to be sending a signal that while irresponsible bloggers roam free, responsible bloggers who moderate their comments and put a name to their writing are more likely to end up as targets.

This policy could not possibly be more ill formed and counter-productive. Given certain statements in the press recently, I unfortunately cannot rule out completely that the substandard and rushed nature of this investigation is the result of political meddling and pressure in police affairs. I am also gravely concerned because as my lawyer pointed out in the remand hearing, arrests should take place at the conclusion of an investigation, and not at the beginning of one. What happened to me is beyond doubt an absolute travesty of this principle.

If the police continue in their attempts to procur information from innocent citizens in bad faith and through questionable means such as by coercing information from individuals isolated from legal counsel and outside support, they will find themselves failing the public in their duty to protect Malaysians from true criminal activity. This entire episode smacks of intimidation. Ongoing and unrelenting intimidation towards social activists, Internet writers and opposition supporters.

The ranking officer in the unit investigating me even took the time to 'advise' me to emulate the example and career trajectories of individuals like Lee Lam Thye. The same officer also warned me to be considerate to my parents as I choose my career paths. While I appreciate the advice, I wish to reiterate here that the causes I have chosen were chosen with due care and consideration, and after thorough analysis of the state of Malaysia's social and political climate. I love my parents very much, and hate the fact that this episode has caused them such unhappiness. However, my responsibility is also to my future children, and the Malaysia they will inherit.

Extremely Effective
Any assumptions that my experience will dissuade other activists and citizens of conscience from exerting all our energies in upholding their responsibilities to their parents, their children, and to all of Malaysia are sadly, sadly misplaced. My time with the police taught me that all the efforts by political parties and civil society to curb the excesses of the police and the government have proven extremely effective. The police were extremely concerned that they might be portrayed in a bad light after my release, and took a number of steps to ensure that they did not do things that they knew would be taken up and publicised by activists. I am thus extremely grateful for the efforts of those that have fought before me to make Malaysia a more just and secure place for its citizens.

It is impossible to endure an experience such as mine without having one's fears and discomfort increased, even in one's own homeland.The true mark of human strength however is the manner in which we deal with these fears.

I have chosen not to let my fears overcome me, and as a member of PKR and other activist groups, I have instead chosen to draw inspiration from those who have walked these paths before me and continue refusing to spare any effort whatsoever in our ongoing endeavours to uphold justice for all throughout the homeland we love.

Lastly, I would like to take this opportunity to express my deepest, most sincerely heartfelt thanks to every single individual and organisation who voiced their support for me throughout this difficult episode. I know this was especially difficult for all of my family and my girlfriend Soon Li Tsin, but despite their pain, they pulled through in every way imaginable to provide me every strength I needed to overcome. I am not exaggerating in the least when I say the truly touching support I received carried me through the entire ordeal. To all my guardian angels, once again, thank you truly.
Tags: Nathaniel Tan, Official Secrets Act, OSA, Phileo Damansara, Deputy Internal Security Minister, Johari Baharum, Malaysia

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Blogger Florchakh said...

Don't know what to say. You are brave, Johnny, I am very impressed!

19 July, 2007 17:25  
Blogger Johnny Ong said...

nathaniel tan was the bravest of all

19 July, 2007 18:14  

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