Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Martin Jalleh reports from the Shah Alam High Court


SHAH ALAM HIGH COURT, 7 NOV 2008 (approx 9:40AM): It was a very moving moment in time – one which your memory will forever hold and behold. I had thought that we only get to see this in a Disney movie. But it was happening right in a courtroom in Bolehland today.

The packed courtroom of Raja Petra (RPK) supporters could not contain their joy. They clapped and burst out into cries of excitement and elation even before Justice Syed Ahmad Helmy Syed Ahmad could finish delivering his judgment.

They were gently reprimanded by the judge that they were in a Court of Law. But for some it was impossible to be silent. You can’t be restrained when it is such a great and glorious victory! And so they whispered: “We have won! We have won! RPK is free!”

The judge ruled that the detention of RPK under the ISA was illegal (unconstitutional) and ordered his immediate release. The court found the (Home) minister had not followed proper procedure under Section 8 of the ISA.

As the judge left for his chambers, everyone sprung up... some with their clenched fists raised high in the air – speechless. Others grabbed the nearest person available to express their elation whether it be a stranger, supporter or Special Branch.

“Yes, yes, yes!” proclaimed Angela from Seremban who has attended every RPK-related court case with her son. Yes, justice is done; yes, the truth always wins; yes, let us continue the good fight!

“God bless the judge... What a brave judge! I hope nothing will happen to him and they won’t transfer him elsewhere...” a man who identified himself as Lim declared to his friends.

A visibly moved Ignatius Gomez, who was present with his wife and daughter to “lend our voices and presence to any movement that works towards the abolishment of the ‘barbaric’ ISA” proclaimed loudly: “Justice has prevailed!”

A brave woman

Marina was moved to tears. She hugged their two daughters, Suraya and Sarah – who have been her sturdy support and who have kept a very brave smile for their mother in the long struggle for their father’s freedom.

Without any hesitation Marina reached out next in deep appreciation to RPK’s lawyers – a team of young, dedicated, daring, diligent and determined attorneys who, time and again, won the admiration and acknowledgement of everyone. Lead lawyer Malik Imtiaz Sarwar’s brilliance and humility in court will remain etched in the memory of many.

In fact, the team, together with other lawyers who had come to show their support, adorned in their court attire, and in all their distinguished shapes and sizes, abandoned their stoic and sage-like disposition and spontaneously hugged each other. Alas, lawyers are human too!

Some of the supporters sat still and smiled to themselves. It was a judgment they found too difficult to believe! Or they wanted to relish the moment and watched, enthralled by the unreserved show of emotion of the rest.

The doors of the courtroom swung open. Marina came out of the court and as the sea of people stood behind, she thanked each and everyone who had played an unique and vital role to get her husband free.

Surely each person, for having stood up for justice, served as a tiny “ripple”, that when put together, made up that giant wave of change that no person (definitely not the Home Minister) nor the powers that be could stop.

Fighting back the tears Marina said: “Though I was hopeful, I had not expected the decision. This is a very good sign that our country is changing and I hope that this change will continue...”

“I want to thank the lawyers, the supporters, the bloggers, the reporters... I am so overwhelmed by the decision that I am short of words... Thanks to the judge for his very courageous decision.”

The “celebration” continued on in the court’s foyer. It was only the beginning. The judge had ordered that RPK be brought (from Kamunting) before the court by 4pm, after which he would be released.

Free at last!

It was time for lunch, but none seemed hungry anymore. I followed a group of RPK supporters many of whom I was meeting for the first time. Robert Choo, a retired college lecturer told everyone: “Lunch is on me. Order anything you want. Very rarely do we get such a brave judgment!”

The diversity was amazing. It was a multi-racial group with ages ranging from 16 to 60 years. We were all middle-class. Except for the self-employed, the rest had to take leave to be in court. The group was predominantly women...very vocal ones too!

As I listened intently I realized the conversation was different from the usual. It was not centred on our obsession with food. They spoke about the candlelight vigils in Seremban, PJ and Ipoh. They shared their fears that RPK would be rearrested and what they could do to prevent it!

What made them want to attend the court case? What motivated them to take the risk? Why did they want to exchange a very comfortable and consumeristic existence for an involvement that is often thankless and even looked upon by the majority as being “stupid”?

It was much more than just giving support to RPK. They were angry with the arrogance and abuse of the BN government. They were fed up of being treated like kids and of a government trying to fool all the people all the time.

They expressed their disgust over desperate politicians playing the religious and racial card and gambling the country away. They looked forward to a new government of integrity, credibility and accountability.

They felt that it was time to take a stand, to say and do something, no matter how small or seemingly insignificant... like just by being present in court – even though at times they found it hard to comprehend what was going on!

They realized they were not alone... and their growing solidarity has helped them to soldier on. They spoke of their proud association with Haris Ibrahim, Bernard Khoo and a host of frontline exemplary leaders. They saw in each other a comrade for justice and they displayed an obvious synergy that has freed them from the culture of fear.

Finally, the moment came – the man of the hour appeared... looking tired and even in a daze, still stunned by the court’s decision. As soon as he left the warm embrace of his wife and children, his supporters mobbed and moved him all the way into the courtroom!

Justice Syed Ahmad Helmy ordered RPK to be released. He thanked the lawyers of both sides for their professionalism. The crowd stood in deep respect and reverence as the brave judge left the courtroom.

They garlanded their hero. There was another round of hugs. Some looked up to the heavens in prayerful thanksgiving. Tears flowed freely in celebration of the freedom of one who cared and dared enough to write so that others may be free.

Raja Petra looked as though he was “holding court” on the front steps of the Shah Alam Court. No fetters could extinguish the fire and fervour in the man. It fact, it had fanned the flame in him: “"We have to fight all-out and get the ISA abolished!"

The peerless Patriot and Prince was fittingly driven away in a red Rolls Royce. As his supporters parted, it was obvious that they were not going to rest on their laurels. They were already talking of meeting in the candlelight vigils in Seremban and PJ.

It was truly a historic day of hugs, heart and hope. In contrast to the cavalier attitude of Syed Hamid in the recent ISA arrests, there was the calibre and courage of Syed Ahmad Helmy, a glimmer of hope in the judiciary.

Compared to the arrogance of the Umno-dominated government which believes that might is right, there was the humility of ordinary citizens who achieved the extraordinary in their multi-racial solidarity!

The Home Minister wants to appeal the judge’s decision – which he claims he respects! We understand. Umno’s internal security is threatened and it is rapidly losing its appeal. Further Syed Hamid wants to be very "appealing" - he is standing in the coming Umno elections.

Former de facto Law Minister Zaid Ibrahim has said that Umno cannot change. And as can be seen from last night’s Anti-ISA gathering when the “uncivilized” police ran riot in the Petaling Jaya Civic Centre, the Police cannot change. They will continue to be arrogant.

Our hope for change lies in the rakyat. The people’s involvement in the process that resulted in RPK being free confirms this.

Martin Jalleh
10 November 2008

[Images courtesy of Malaysiakini & Zorro Unmasked]