The best place to be during those 72 hours

Chee Siok Chin

We went through last minute details and preparations on the morning of our protest. We were in high spirits although it was apparent that there some of us were nervous as something like this had never been done before in Singapore.

Then everything seemed to happen all at once between the time we walked to the Speakers’ Corner and the police huddling around us to prevent us from walking to Parliament.

By about 1 pm, I found myself sitting in the middle of the road on Circular Street barricaded by more than a dozen women police officers and surrounded by another 30 male officers.

It took me more than half an hour to get there from Hong Lim Park, a distance of less than 200 m. The police must have stopped me no less than four times before I reached Circular Street.

Each time, I negotiated with the police and they let me proceed. It was obvious that the woman office in charge was not able to decide what to do. She must have received strict orders not to let me proceed any further as I had announced that I would carry on the march to Parliament House by myself.

Throughout that day, I was surrounded by more than a dozen female officers. The circle formed around me was less about 50 cm in radius. At one point, I could not get enough air and almost threw up.

It was frustrating, to say the least. I asked them many times if I was under arrest or if I had been charged with any offence. The answer each time was no. But yet, I was treated like a prisoner. I had to tell them where I was going if I wanted to move.

It was surreal. I said that this whole scenario looks as if it was taking place in communist China or military-ruled Burma.

I wouldn’t be telling the truth if I were to say that there weren’t moments when I felt disturbed by the fortress that surrounded us. But at the same time, then sense of camaraderie and solidarity I derived from the supporters and well-wishers who were milling around us and visiting us helped keep my spirits up. I cannot thank them enough for this invaluable contribution.

As I had said in my press statement at the last hour of our stand-off, the entire experience was tiring, trying and yet exhilarating for me. Tiring because of the lack of sleep and the being exposed to the rains and the scorching sun. Trying because of the manner in which the police had used and misused their authority in restricting our movements even though we were not under arrest.

Exhilarating because I know what I had done stems from a conviction and proud to be part of an unprecedented event in Singapore calling for democracy, freedom and justice.

The more oppressive this government becomes, the more determined I am to break the shackles of repression. The tyranny that exists here has also called up strength and will in me that I never thought I had.

I am well aware that the struggle ahead is a long one. I also know that there are Singaporeans who want to stand with us but are apprehensive to do so. I understand that trepidation because I once was also trapped in it.

The only way to free ourselves from this dread is to confront it. This does not mean a plunge into the deep end. We can take small and proactive steps to overcome our fear and sense of helplessness.

There are many ways to do this. One is to attend the Empower Singaporeans Seminar on 15 October where my fellow protesters and I will be present to help other Singaporeans take this first step.

The 72 or more hours that I spent on the sidewalk of Hong Lim Park with my colleagues, friends and fellow democrats has been a most rewarding and fruitful experience. Looking back it was the best place to be for the three days.