Tan Hoon Cheng’s first person account of what she went through – 18 hours under the ISA. She also expresses her deepest gratitude for the calls, messages, good wishes and visits from readers and friends.
On Sept 12 about 8.30pm, I was at home in Bukit Mertajam in Penang. While enjoying my ‘yew char koay’ (fried dough stick), I was worrying about the show-cause letter issued to Sin Chew Daily, and anxious about the days ahead for my newspaper.
Suddenly, a group of plainclothes police officers appeared at my front gate. The person who started to identify the group and the purpose of this visit was a woman officer. She was also the only one in uniform.
Speaking from the other side of the gate, she told me that I had to follow them to the police station. I replied that unless they had a warrant of arrest, I would not open the gate. At the same time, I rang my company’s legal adviser and my superior, seeking their advice.
Later, the female officer told me that they are arresting me under Internal Security Act, therefore a warrant is not required. On hearing that, I was immediately prepared for the worst.
I had to act calm, comforting my parents and reassuring them that my colleagues would be waiting for me at the police station to render assistance. When I was taken away, my parents reacted strongly, asking the police to accord me proper treatment.
I was taken to the Seberang Perai Tengah police district office where I was placed in a chilly room while waiting for the police to begin their paperwork. I was accompanied by a female officer who seemed to be trembling as a result of the low room temperature as well.
To break the silence, I initiated a conversation. She told me, “You seem to be very calm.”
I told her: “I am arrested under the ISA. Even though I am scared, I have to face this reality. But I am worried about my parents, friends and relatives, they must be very worried about me.”
To be frank, I was very cool-headed. I believed that there must be a lot of people out there supporting me, giving me the strength that I need, so I must stay strong, to be with these people who are supporting me.
The police recorded all my personal belongings, which were later taken from me. After that, I was considered ready to be sent to the Police Contingent Headquarters in Penang.
When I was taken out of the police station, I realised that a lot of my colleagues in the media, together with representatives from different parties and groups were already waiting outside to show support. Seeing this, I was deeply touched, I could no longer hold back my tears.
When the police car arrived at the station entrance, my superior and Northern Region Manager Puah Eu Peng tried to stop the car with his body, to slow it down. He knocked on the window, to make sure that I was in the car and gestured to show me his support.
I instantly wiped away my tears. I realised that a lot of people (were) with me (and that) I must be with them as well.
After taking my thumb-print, I was given dinner and spent my night in remand. It was not to my knowledge that my colleagues in the profession and people from different groups and parties were there to show their support, right outside that station.
I requested the female officer to keep the lights on. She told me not to worry, she would not switch off the lights. The police also informed me that I would meet my parents the next day at eight.
I spent a very long time, thinking of everything that I would have to tell my parents. I had lost touch with the outside world (and) this would be my only opportunity, I must cherish it, to clearly explain everything to my parents.
After clearing my mind and organising my thoughts, I tried to sleep on the wooden bed with the company of the mosquitoes and the noise of dripping water. I had no idea what tomorrow held for me, but I knew I had to be in perfect condition to handle everything.
I have never suffered from insomnia and this very night, I finally experienced it. Deep down in my heart, I know that those who care about me would also be experiencing the same. My heart wrenched thinking of that.
‘Continue being brave’
At 6am, when I was about to wash up, the female officer passed me clothing brought by my parents. I was surprised; everything was new, the toiletries, t-shirts, shorts and underwear.
I later discovered that the ‘parents’ that the police officer was referring to were a bunch of my colleagues. While waiting outside the police contingent headquarters, they prepared all these for me.
They were uncertain when I would be released, but they told themselves that they must get these items ready in the briefest time possible.
I met my parents and bade them goodbye. The police informed me that they would take me to the police headquarters in Bukit Aman, Kuala Lumpur. My heart sank, I told myself this was the beginning of it, I must brace myself for everything.
After a few turns of event, I was eventually taken to the Perak police headquarters in Ipoh. After a brief interrogation session, I was taken back to the Penang headquarters.
It was here, where I was interrogated further. I told myself to keep my mind clear, to tell them the truth, and respond appropriately.
After the interrogation session, I was taken to see another higher-ranking officer who told me: “We can both go home now!”
Both of us turned to the clock on the wall, the time was 2.25pm. During my 18 hours under the ISA. I had gone through a lot.
After being released, I received a lot of messages, telephone calls and bouquets. My colleagues in the press, representatives of political parties, society leaders, schoolmates, classmates, friends and relatives have visited me at home – not forgetting the readers and the public who called up or visited Sin Chew Daily’s office in Penang and the head office in Petaling Jaya.
Calls, messages, good wishes and visits from readers and friends. For all of these, I have to express my deepest gratitude.
During those 18 hours filled with a lot of uncertainties, I felt that some unknown strength supported me throughout. I knew it must be from you all, those whom I know and (those whom I) have not met!
I realise that our journey is still filled with challenges and obstacles, so we have to continue the same righteous spirit and courage that we have all shown this time. Our society needs this spirit, to build a better tomorrow.
I have finally been freed, but I hope (Seputeh MP) Teresa Kok and (blogger) Raja Petra Kamaruddin and all ISA detainees will be released as soon as possible.
If the authorities think that they have broken the law, they should taken to court for a transparent and fair trial.