In His Own Words: Nathaniel Tan

Four Days Under the OSA
By Nathaniel Tan
July 19, 2007 1:27PM Malaysiakini.com

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.

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