We do not fear, our cause is just: Reflections of the Istana protest

October 10, 2007
Singapore Democrats

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Gandhi AmbalamI feel so proud of my colleagues
Gandhi Ambalam

We walked to the nearest traffic light and crossed the road, displaying our placards. Soon we were on the other side of Orchard Road facing the imposing Istana gates.

It was approximately 1.30pm on 8 Oct 07. Three SDP leaders and I were outside the Prime Minister’s Office, calling on Mr Lee Hsien Loong to reveal the Singapore Government’s dealings with the Burmese military government.

Before long, a plainclothes officer approached us and warned us to disperse since a gathering of two or more persons outside the Istana is considered illegal. We stood our ground.

Before long two police vans pulled up and we were arrested one after another. We did not put up any resistance not because we were guilty but because we believed in the philosophy of nonviolence.

As I was led to the waiting police van, I held my head high and nothing crossed my mind except the thought that I was proud to break an unjust law where even a gathering of four persons to protest peacefully is an offence.

I also felt so proud of my fellow protesters who had the courage to stand with me to defy this autocratic government.

At the Tanglin police divisional headquarters where we were taken, we were kept in the lockup for nearly eight hours before we were released on bail of $1,000 each.

As I walked out of the police gates together with my other colleagues, there was a group of supporters and friends waiting outside to greet us. I looked at my watch, it was 9.30pm.

The sight of enthusiastic supporters and friends further strengthened my resolve in facing up to the undemocratic regime that we have in Singapore.

I’ve been jailed twice in the past for my belief in democracy, freedom and human rights. I’ll continue to struggle through nonviolent action and civil disobedience because I want to one day see the emergence of a Singapore based on justice, equality and the rule of law.

Majulah Singapura!

Chee Siok ChinI will
Chee Siok Chin

An officer warned us that we were violating the Istana Order, whereby a gathering of two or more persons is considered an illegal gathering. We asked him where we should move to. He refused to answer.

Within minutes, I found myself being led away into a police van. Two policewomen held me. I asked them to loosen their grip as their grasp was hurting me.

As the van passed Plaza Singapura, a lady showed me ‘V’ sign to show her support. I waved back.

We were taken to Tanglin Police Station. I was held in a cell the size of a squash court. In a corner was a toilet, blocked from view by a low wall.

The eight hours that I was in the lock-up gave me time to rest my weary body as the past week’s activities at the Burma Embassy were beginning to take a toll on me.

I felt cold as I was still damp from having stood in the rain outside the Istana. I was hungry too but refused the meal they offered. The combination of cold, hunger and fatigue in a jail cell does something to one’s spirit.

I covered myself with a poncho-like sheet, curled myself in a sitting position against the wall and tried to take a nap. But the slamming of doors every few seconds made this impossible.

My thoughts wondered to Burma and what the people there are being subjected to. I thought about those who were being imprisoned indefinitely. I thought about the thousands who had been killed. I thought about the suffering of the victims of the cruel regime.

Then I thought about the Singapore Government’s role in the carnage in Burma. I remember the plea of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, “Please use your liberty to promote ours.” Even though I was not free, I was determined to do my part. I replied quietly to her, “I will.”

I have no doubt we will be found guilty of whatever charge the police is going to prefer on us. But in the meantime, I will stand firm and encouraged by Daw Suu and do whatever I can to help free the victims of the junta.

John TanA small price to pay for freedom
John Tan

“Since you did not disperse after my warning,” said the mustached guy, with a woman staff sergeant in tow, “I am now putting you under arrest.” Thus began my experience in a Singapore police lock-up.

The police vans had brought us to Tanglin Police Station, where my four colleagues and I were emptied of our belongings and fingerprinted. (Jeffrey George was also arrested even though he was not part of the protest.)

They gave us a pair of plastic flip-flops to replace of our footwear and a plastic wristband carrying our particulars.

We were put in a holding cell 12 by 8 ft. The full-length glass window allowed us a view of the officers’ working area. Unfortunately Siok Chin, being the only woman among us, was placed in a separate room by herself.

Lunch was cup noodle and a small glass of water.

Moving around the detention facility during toilet breaks and interviews gave me a chance to meet other offenders, some of whom were obviously scared and despondent. We were perhaps the only merry bunch in that place—we talked, laughed and made future plans to defy the authoritarian Government.

The reason for our total lack of fear is that we believe our cause is just and we have done no wrong. Despite the smear machine of the Government, we know we have families, friends and Singaporeans who stand by us.

Indeed, even some of the police officers seemed to share the sentiment apologizing every now and then: “Sorry, I am just doing my job.”

This time round, they are able to contain us, four protesters. Recall that during our recent petition signing in front of the Burmese embassy, there were more than a couple of hundred persons at one point.

Then, police came to warn us about the illegal assembly but made no arrest—why? Because there is power in numbers. For starters, there would not be enough space in the lock-up to hold all of those assembled.

What my colleagues and I experienced is but a small price to pay for the liberation of our country. I urge everyone to stand up against the current despotic government and to usher in for ourselves a true democracy—a nation we can all be proud of.